It is understandable that the public and some lawmakers want action on energy policy, at both the state and federal levels. Calls for special sessions of the Maine Legislature and Congress must be tempered by the realization that there are no quick fixes to the long-building problem of global oil and gas supplies not meeting global demands.

Further, rather than looking to Augusta and Washington for solutions, consumers should look in the mirror. The recent drop in oil prices is largely attributed to Americans driving less. According to a report from MasterCard, demand for gasoline dropped more than 3 percent over last year. U.S. demand for gasoline had been increasing by between 1 percent and 2 percent per year.

The number of miles driven by Americans dropped 4 percent in May, compared with May 2007. That was the largest decline ever, according to the Department of Transportation. The decline in demand is expected to grow as people trade in their sport utility vehicles and trucks for more fuel-efficient and hybrid cars.

This is not to say that action from Congress and the Legislature is not needed, but lawmakers and the public must be realistic about what can be accomplished.

Republicans in Washington continue to protest Democratic congressional leaders’ recalcitrance in allowing debate on opening new areas to oil drilling. This is a debate that should happen, but whether it occurs later this year or next year won’ t make much difference practically. If new drilling is approved it would be at least a decade before oil or natural gas flows to consumers. Politically, of course, Republicans hoped to capitalize on the public’ s frustration with high fuel prices.

The same is true with growing calls for a special legislative session to address energy issues in Maine. Republican leaders are calling for a special session to appropriate $10 million for heating assistance. This is unnecessary.

First, Congress has yet to settle on the amount of federal money allocated to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Without knowing how much money the federal government is sending to Maine, it is premature for the Legislature to determine more is needed.

Whatever the federal funding for LIHEAP, it won’ t be enough to meet demand. But, with limited state resources, additional LIHEAP money from Augusta is best saved for an emergency. If lawmakers approved the additional $10 million this summer and began to send it out in October when LIHEAP funds are generally distributed, they could face demands for additional state spending in the winter when cold weather and high prices leave some families literally freezing.

In the first days of 2006, lawmakers approved using $5 million in state funds to supplement federal LIHEAP dollars. Acting quickly during a regular legislative session makes more sense than holding a special session — at a cost of $40,000 per day.

It has taken years for the energy situation to become this dire. It will take more than a few days and one solution to improve it.