Funny how rising gasoline prices can set off the conspiracy train and start the blame game.
Facebook can be charged foster angry and polarizing content, but it would be hard to find a politician who is not quick to point fingers when the numbers start to soar at the pumps.
Gasoline makes a great political theater. We all need it to get around. Its price is added to the price of food and other goods because gasoline trucks deliver these things to stores. And, in August, the price at the pump was 42.7% higher than the same period in 2020.
Gas prices are like a roller coaster. As we ascend, we all wince in sober anticipation, wondering who is to blame for our being there, helplessly tied to the seat of fate.
On the way down we’re all booing and screaming, hands up to uplift the moment.
Well, not all of them. People who are sober and those with fragile stomachs may instead have a serious problem. They know that no matter how wild it sounds, what goes up will likely come back down.
But politics has conditioned us to never spoil a good crisis. So while we wince at the thought of seeing a $ 4 sign at the neighborhood convenience store, let me debunk some common theories.
No, President Joe Biden is not to blame for gas prices which, as of this writing, average $ 3.71 in Utah, according to AAA.
Yes, it has decided to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline and it has suspended new oil and gas leasing licenses on federal lands and waters. I objected to both as short-sighted bad decisions, but these will impact supplies in the future, not today.
As Robert Rapier recently written for Forbes, “The oil markets do not react in real time to events like this. The markets don’t know what supply and demand will look like in the distant future, when the pipeline may be finished. The pipeline was not functioning, so it had no effect on current prices.
Equally ludicrous, however, is the president’s assertion that the oil companies are to blame and that they are raising prices only to increase profits.
“There is a lot of evidence that gas prices should come down, but it is not,” he told a a few weeks ago.
Not exactly. Several easily explicable factors are at work.
On the one hand, OPEC refuses to increase production, despite the strong demand for gas. As Axios reported, US independent producers are also reluctant to ramp up “due to a recent wave of bankruptcies and investors demanding more focus on yields.”
Meanwhile, American drivers are back on the road. CBS News, citing an Apple Mobility Index, said we were driving 50% more than pre-pandemic levels.
In addition, Hurricane Ida halted production for some time at several refineries. It came after a big ransomware attack hit the colonial pipeline.
CBS quoted Northeastern University energy expert Jeffery Born as saying, “In short, I think we have supply chain issues. I’m sure Joe (Biden) wants the prices to drop – you and me too. I would also like to weigh 20 pounds less tomorrow.
Frankly, I would bet on prices that will drop soon for weight loss.
Years ago, during a similar peak, I happened to be visiting California. I was pulled over by a man in the parking lot of a grocery store who asked me to sign a petition to send to Washington, “so they can hear us” about the high gas prices. When I pressed him to find out who “they” were and how they could make a difference, he got agitated. They must stop raising gas prices, he insisted.
That might be a good slogan, but the truth is more complicated than the man with the petition, or politicians would have you believe.
Maybe the gasoline policy will go away when everyone drives electric cars. However, plug-in electric cars now represent less than 2% vehicles on the road, according to policyadvice.net, and the The Washington Post recently quoted Wards Intelligence data shows that hybrids make up only 4.9% of all vehicles.
High gas prices have not changed these numbers much yet.
None of this is new. In 1956, a Vermont lawmaker named John Hancock ran for governor, placing ads in local newspapers promising to investigate gasoline prices for you. He lost.
This doesn’t mean that the oil companies are blameless or that politicians don’t mess around. But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, using today’s pump prices as a political weapon will cause a lot of noise and fury, meaning nothing.
Jay Evensen is the senior editorial columnist for Deseret News.