Fantasy Politics has a brief summary of a speech that John Edwards gave in Menlo Park, CA today. The crux of his statement is that gas prices are too high — he doesn’t agree with the incentives and tax breaks that “vertically integrated” energy companies have been given to produce the black stuff that we all pump into our SUVs. He outlines his energy policy in a press release for the speech on his website:

• Investigate the anticompetitive actions of the oil industry. Edwards will call for an independent Justice Department investigation into the consolidation of the oil industry, the causes of higher gas prices and remedies to the problem.
• Reverse Enron-era deregulation of energy markets by restoring basic transparency and oversight, such as requiring public reporting of large trades, to help identify and deter market manipulation.
• End taxpayer subsidies for oil companies and reinvest the savings in affordable, clean and renewable energy.
• Require oil companies to invest in clean, reliable refineries. Edwards will call on states to enforce Clean Air Act standards to require oil companies to modernize their refineries, making them cleaner and more reliable.

Those seem like pretty lofty goals to me. I abandoned my own greenhouse-conscious objective of “walking to the mailbox” when I realized that the salty liquid streaming down my back was sweat — the result of physical exertion. Now I check my mail on a gas-powered wheelchair.

I can appreciate Edwards’ sentiment, but I think he’s attacking the problem — at least in a populist, “looking out for the little guy” way — from the wrong direction. I’m pretty sure that huge oil conglomerates are really, really fond of the enormous profits they’ve been making in the past two years. Removing their tax breaks, at least in the short run, will only shift those costs to consumers. Everyone needs gas.

Instead of attacking supply, Edwards should focus on demand. The $3/gallon threshold has prompted a surge in hybrid car sales. If the pinch at the pump is enough to motivate people to consume less gasoline, what else might work? Tax incentives for living closer to work? A robust public transportation system to reign in sprawling suburbs? Those are probably more practical and effective solutions to our expensive habit than attacking the soulless corporate vampires that smoke $500 cigars in the Executive Suites of huge oil skyscrapers. But they don’t make as good of sound bites.