by Jeffrey H. Anderson
There are few more easily observable measures of the cost of everyday living than the price of gasoline at the pump. As has been widely reported, gas prices in the United States recently hit a seven-year high. The striking thing, however, is not just how high gas prices have gotten, but how fast and far they have risen.
Based on statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration—the statistical arm of the Department of Energy—weekly average retail prices for regular unleaded gasoline in the United States increased 94 percent in less than two years. Average gas prices rose from $1.77 per gallon during the week ending April 27, 2020, to $3.44 per gallon during the week ending February 7, 2022—nearly doubling in the process.
That was the largest percentage increase in gas prices within a two-year window since October of 2005, more than 16 years ago. In the election of 2006, Republicans—then the party in power—lost 30 House and six Senate seats, thereby losing control of both chambers, before losing the presidency two years later.
It was to be expected that gas prices should rise above the $1.77 per gallon mark in the spring of 2020, when COVID lockdowns had reduced the demand for gas. During the Biden Administration, however, gas prices have risen far above pre-COVID levels, which were $2.57 per gallon during the week ending December 30, 2019. During the week of Biden’s election, gas cost $2.10 per gallon. During the third week of his presidency (the week ending February 8, 2021), it cost $2.46 per gallon. In the year since then, gas prices have risen 40 percent. Pre-Biden, the last time the price spiked that much in one year’s time was over a decade ago.
A little less than two years ago, a 12-gallon fill-up cost Americans an average of $21. As of the week ending February 7, 2022, it cost them $41. (On the eve of COVID, it cost them $31.) That extra 20 bucks (or 10 bucks versus pre-COVID pricing) matters a lot to most everyday Americans. Whether it matters to coastal elites is another question.
The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart recently asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on MSNBC about Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation, which has stalled on Capitol Hill despite Democrats’ control of Congress. Capehart asked, “Are there things in that legislation . . . that [are] important to you as the secretary of transportation?” Here’s the first example that Buttigieg gave in response: “It contains incentives to make it more affordable to buy an electric vehicle.” He added that Americans, “once they own that electric vehicle, will never have to worry about gas prices again.”
In other words, if gas costs too much, just buy a new car—and one that must be heavily subsidized by your fellow taxpayers and by further deficit spending, since it’s a car you wouldn’t otherwise choose to buy. (By the way, where does Buttigieg think electricity comes from? About 60 percent of electricity generation in the United States comes from fossil fuels, and another 20 percent from nuclear power.)
From the beginning, the Biden Administration has been hostile toward the fossil-fuel industry and has done the bidding of environmental extremists. Meanwhile, most of the American citizenry is justifiably more concerned about the clear and tangible effects of gas-price change than about the alleged and speculative effects of “climate change.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Biden Administration has had a “tense relationship” with American oil companies, which have been “a primary target of President Biden’s climate policy” and have largely been left out of the loop by an administration allied with environmental activists. The Journal writes, “Mr. Biden didn’t attend a virtual meeting the White House held with oil company leaders in the spring, which focused almost solely on what the companies would do to address climate change.”
Just a week after taking office, Biden issued an executive order declaring that we face “a profound climate crisis,” adding: “To the extent consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of the Interior shall pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of Federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices.” (The same executive order declares that “climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.”)
This marks a clear difference between Biden and Barack Obama. As Rupert Darwall notes at SpectatorWorld, Obama couldn’t resist taking credit for fracking’s success. “Right now—right now—American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years,” Obama said in his 2012 State of the Union address. “Not only that,” he added, “last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.”
“The contrast between Obama and Biden, who is imploring OPEC and Russia to increase their oil output to solve America’s energy supply crisis, could hardly be greater,” Darwall observes. “When it comes to energy, this is far from being Obama’s third term. Compared to Obama the pragmatist, Biden is doctrinaire and inflexible.”
Now, in the face of rising gas prices and increasing public dissatisfaction, the Biden Administration does want stateside oil companies to pump more oil—while simultaneously expecting their business model to go the way of the dodo. As Energy Department spokesman David Mayorga delicately put it, “It’s important for the American oil-and-gas industry to address near-term energy demands while also recognizing that they need to begin transitioning their companies.” In other words, “Pump harder before we put you out of business!”
The Biden Administration’s idea of a better energy source than fossil fuels is eyesore wind farms with their giant, alien-looking structures. These wind farms—which no one wants to live near, which mar rural landscapes, and which slaughter bald eagles and other birds (and, amazingly, “tens to hundreds of thousands” of bats each year, per the Department of the Interior)—produce only limited and intermittent energy. And now there are plans to build a large offshore wind farm in the middle of a key habitat for critically endangered right whales, as “climate change” environmentalism triumphs over animal conservation.
And, of course, the Biden Administration loves electric cars, which are not unequivocally superior to gas-powered cars environmentally, given the rare-earth metals required to make their batteries and the problem of disposing of those batteries. Electric cars, however, are a clear boon for China, where supplies of these required natural elements are found and where, according to the Wall Street Journal, heavily subsidized (at U.S. taxpayer expense) Tesla “likely makes more than half its vehicles.”
All in all, many of the same people—or their like-minded political allies—who brought us the senseless, science-denying, authoritarian COVID policies are also running our energy policy. Would you expect them to pursue policies in the citizenry’s interest, rather than their own?
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Jeffrey H. Anderson is president of the American Main Street Initiative and served as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2017 to 2021.