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Americans try to cope with record gas prices

From CNN's Tom Foreman in Washington:

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Strategic Petroleum Reserve
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Spiraling gas prices are hammering consumers nationwide and not just on the roadways.

Shipping companies, retailers, and airlines -- almost every corner of the economy is seeing costs rise. A new survey by the National Retail Federation finds one third of Americans ready to trim summer travel.

In Washington, D.C., Senate Democrats are blaming White House policies and demanding relief.

"We call on the White House to step up and do what is right for Americans everywhere and send a signal to OPEC that they can't keep their hands around our neck," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.

For those Democrats the issue is the Department of Energy's build-up since 9/11 of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a vast oil supply that is set aside for national emergencies. The Bush administration insists releasing part of that supply will do little good for consumers, and a lot of damage to national security.

"The reserve is not there to simply try and change prices," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham on Tuesday.

Analysts for the oil industry say the main cause of high gas prices is overseas. The rapidly expanding world economy, especially in China and India, is increasing global demand for oil. Add to that the turmoil in the Middle East, which creates fear of a possible interruption in the supply, and prices take off.

"Although we've become a lot more efficient in our use of energy, our economies are requiring more energy. As we create more products, as we travel more, our economy expands," says Genevieve Murphy of the American Petroleum Institute.

For now, consumers can only cope. Gasbuddy.com, a web site that helps people find cheaper gas, is getting a half million users a day.

And AAA is releasing its summer travel predictions, saying that "more people are going to travel ... But they're going to alter their plans slightly," according to Sandra Hughes of the auto club.

Americans may be taking shorter trips and using more fuel-efficient vehicles -- but even with that, they'll be paying dearly to hit the road.


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