A new study looking at driving patterns, fuel prices and income levels around the country, measures how much people in different states are spending on gasoline. The results are sobering. The typical consumer in a majority of states — including Texas, Maine, Arizona and Michigan – spend more than 5% of their incomes on gasoline. For the average consumer in Mississippi, the portion of income spent on gasoline is more than 9%; in Montana, it’s more than 8%.

These are staggering numbers in any economic environment, but in the current climate, they drive home a point that we’ve made on this blog before, about the burden of high and volatile oil prices on people living on fixed incomes, including the elderly.

You can click on this interactive map to see where your state ranks in this pain at the pump index.

Here’s the twist: The study  — designed to highlight how vulnerable people are to rising oil prices — comes from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a group that has not always supported domestic oil production. Nonetheless, the council’s transportation policy director acknowledged in an interview with CNN that the high costs of gasoline, even in a down economy, was due in large part to the country’s dependence on foreign sources of oil.

CNN then took the argument one step further and cited critics who argued that groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council were part of the very problem they are now highlighting. By promoting an anti-oil agenda, they’ve helped keep domestic supply scarce, critics say.

This gets to the heart of CEA’s call for a realistic and balanced approach for energy in the 21st Century to replace the all too common pie-in-the-sky strategies that would have you believe oil could just be abandoned tomorrow.

Of course, we agree with the NRDC that all consumers need alternatives to rising and uncertain oil prices that consume too much of their family budgets. We’d just like to point out that the alternative can often be found close to home in the form of untapped oil that could be produced and transported with respect to the environment.

Indeed, our natural resources are our greatest asset. But only if we use them wisely.