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Rob Perks’s Blog

Empty Promises, Empty Gas Tanks

Rob Perks

Posted March 6, 2012 in Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil

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This afternoon President Obama will host a press conference and the price of gasoline is bound to be a big topic. Lately the president has been talking a lot about gas prices, as have a lot of other politicians. Reminds me of that old saying about the weather: Everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it.

Whether people accept it or not, there really is no silver bullet solution to rising gas prices. But that hasn’t stopped people – especially politicians – from playing the blame game.

The fact is, as a global commodity, gas prices rise and fall due to a number of factors: crude oil prices, refinery capacity, increasing demand and political unrest in oil-producing countries. It seems like some people think the Constitution guarantees Americans the “right” to cheap gas, but the only price that is right is whatever the market will bear. That’s why no president can control what we pay at the pump. Any politician that says otherwise is trying to sell the public snake oil.   

Economists and energy experts keep telling us that but not everyone is listening. Check out some recent stories that have tried to explain the situation:

If political pandering and half-baked ideas could fill Americans' gas tanks, the latest price surge at the filling station would be no problem. As typically happens when gas spikes, politicians are providing an oversupply of blame-shifting and cluelessness. If there's a good energy strategy in all the criticism, it's well hidden.   -- USA Today

Does a president really have that much control over how much it costs for you to fill your car? The short answer is: not really...Recession depresses economic demand, and when demand is depressed, fewer people drive — which in turns leads the price of gas to fall like any other commodity would when demand falls. As the economy recovered and economic activity picked up — both in the U.S. and elsewhere — the price of gas rose as well.  -- Time magazine

The United States pumps just 7.5 million barrels of the world's 82 million barrels a day of crude, according to BP. One nation can't control world prices with such a modest market share...[U.S.] reliance on foreign oil has fallen below 50 percent, back to levels last seen three decades ago. None of this, however, has stopped the price [of oil] from rising 60 percent over the past two years. America's real clout on global energy markets comes as a consumer, where it accounts for a fifth of all oil burnt...[T]he economic laws of supply and demand are pretty simple. And they make a strong case for focusing on the latter over the former.  -- AlterNet

Unless the world economy crashes or intercessory prayer starts working, no one on the planet has the power to significantly lower the price of gasoline at the pump...It’s hard to understand why this isn’t as ingrained in our national psyche as, say, the relationship between supply and demand. I mean, seeing as how that’s exactly how the price of oil is determined.  -- Grist

What too many politicians fail to realize (or acknowledge) is that the only sure-fire way to shield ourselves from price shocks is to...wait for it...use less oil. Let's face it, the U.S. doesn't have nearly enough oil supply on our own land or off our shores to bring pump prices down. So as the rhetoric over rising gas prices heats up, remember that the problem is our nation's oil addiction and for that there is no simple solution. Attacking this issue purely from the supply side will get us nowhere; reducing demand is the only realistic answer.

Meantime, here's an idea: Let's stop rewarding multi-national oil companies that reap record profits from us ($137 billion last year!) while collecting another $4 billion in federal subsidies every year. That's right, Big Oil has been gouging the little guy at the pump, then flying private jets to Congress and demanding more taxpayer handouts.

Everyday, real people are hurting. If politicians really want to do something about gas prices they could start by not giving away any more unnecessary, wasteful tax breaks to the industry and instead giving Americans more energy options so we're not so dependent on dirty and expensive oil. We should use those savings to invest in more transportation choices so Americans have the freedom to find other ways than driving to get us where we need to go.  

By 2030, we could cut our oil imports in half by investing in more efficient vehicles, cleaner fuels, and more tranportation options. Watch this video to learn more. 

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Comments

Ron RoundMar 6 2012 03:58 PM

Well, glad to see half the argument presented accurately. That's big progress.

I don't mind subsidies/tax breaks getting pulled, just so long as we don't then turn around and give more outrageously foolish subsidies to hugely uneconomic "green" energy (which only seems to produces red ink and pink slips when the subsidies run out).

As for the notion we can't drill our way out of the problem, that's patent nonsense. A few short years ago the handwringers (aka "experts") told us that we would never see rising US oil production, and that natgas production had peaked.

Fast forward a few years and now we have a massive natgas glut with prices at decade-lows and historic discount to oil. And domestic oil production is climbing so fast that the US could be REALISTICALLY oil sufficient in less than a decade.

Now, this has all happened despite the continued opposition from the misinformed greens - imagine if they stopped being the problem and became part of the solution?

Imagine CHEAP, RELIABLE AND CLEAN natgas being used instead of hugely polluting coal-fired electrical generation - not only would that single-handedly meet the Kyoto targets, it would drastically improve pollution levels by reducing the vast mountains of toxic ash, heavy metals and noxious gasses (NOx) that are spewed every day under the status quo. (not to mention the near-elimination of open pit mining).

If the greens had any intellectual honesty and discussed facts rather than pandering to ignorance and fear, this country would be a much healthier (and less expensive) place to live. Too bad we are doomed to continue on this route.

BTW, I think you mean gouging rather than gauging...

Rob PerksMar 6 2012 04:05 PM

Yes, I meant gouging -- thanks!

For more information on why we most definitely cannot drill our way to energy independence, go here: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/gasprices/default.asp

That information relates to oil. As far as natural gas is concerned, that fuel definitely burns cleaner than oil or coal. But extracting it via "fracking" poses a host of other environmental and health problems. Learn more at: http://www.nrdc.org/thisgreenlife/1103.asp

MPGomaticMar 12 2012 11:18 PM

Even if America gets to the point - through increased drilling AND conservation - of domestic petroleum independence, the price at the pump will be set on the world stage ...

We need real competition for transportation fuels on every street corner. The monoculture of petroleum service stations is so last century. Consumers need easy access to the options of CNG, biofuels, and electricity. Options that work today.

A significant percentage of our fleet is now capable of running E85, right out of the box. This capability is severely underutilized. Second and third generation ethanol can be a huge piece of the puzzle, along with drop-in biobutanol for all gasoline-engined cars and trucks.

The solutions are regional. Renewable fuel plants can operate in each and every state. This will create jobs where they're most needed and put real price competition into play.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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