Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where's The Outrage Over Gas Prices?

In 2004, then President Bush was under fire for not doing enough to curb the high price of gas at the pump. There was the usual attempts to wrap the criticism in the flag and play up the suffering of "ordinary Americans".
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the administration would not temporarily stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help lower oil prices and it would not publicly call on OPEC to roll back production cuts scheduled for April 1.

"We've ... made clear we're not going to beg for oil," said Mr. Abraham, although he later told reporters that the administration has been working behind the scenes to try to bring prices down.

"We have had a lot of contacts at a lot of levels," he said.

"We're not begging," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. "We have men and women over there" in Iraq.

Iraq has the world's second-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. The slow revival of exports from Iraq, despite U.S. control of the country, has been a factor driving up oil prices.

Mr. Kennedy and other committee Democrats said they were outraged that the administration is not doing everything in its power to alleviate the strain on drivers, consumers and businesses.
People were suffering, soldiers were dying and Bush wasn't doing anything about it. The price of a gallon of gas at the time of the above quote: $1.74.

Flashforward to 2006: gas prices had doubled since Bush first took office in 2001. The price of a gallon of gas was now approaching $3.00 a gallon in some areas. Democrats were outraged. The public was outraged. Everyone was outraged. A huge business opportunity was lost when no one could come up with a workable plan to fuel combustion engines on outrage. It was clear that Bush and the oil companies were in cahoots. Congress was swift to act by pushing legislation to impose windfall profit taxes on oil companies. Finally, we were told, the national nightmare of $3.00 per gallon gas prices was ending.

In April of 2006, Bush announced a plan to halt oil purchases for the strategic oil reserve, leaving more oil on the open market in a bid to lower gas prices.
Bush said the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve had enough fuel to guard against any major supply disruption over the next few months.

“So, by deferring deposits until the fall, we’ll leave a little more oil on the market. Every little bit helps,” he said.

Wholesale gasoline futures prices for June delivery dropped 8 cents a gallon to $2.10 on the New York Mercantile Exchange immediately upon Bush’s remarks.

In a separate development, Bush ordered a temporary suspension of environmental rules for gasoline.

Easing the environment rules will allow refiners greater flexibility in providing oil supplies since they will not have to use certain additives such as ethanol to meet clean air standards. The suspension of oil purchases for the federal emergency oil reserve is likely to have only modest impact since relative little extra oil will be involved.
This is not to imply that withholding oil from the strategic reserve and relaxing some EPA rules in and of themselves magically lowered gas prices. But the president was taking steps. He was "doing something".

It's now October 2006. Gas prices have fallen into the low $2 range. Democrats lined up to praise the president for addressing the issue and getting prices lower, just as they had been calling for. Op-ed pieces across the land hailed the end of high gas prices. Everyone was happy

No, just kidding. Instead, the op-ed pages were filled with speculation about whether Bush was now conspiring with oil companies to lower gas prices.
Of course, the relationship between commodity prices and electoral results is a noisy one. A host of other factors could influence the polls and, ultimately, control of Congress, like Bob Woodward's book, or Rep. Mark Foley's instant messages, or Macacawitz-gate. But that hasn't stopped speculation about conspiracies led by the Bush administration, and those close to it, to engineer a sharp fall in the prices of oil and gas during campaign season. A big chunk of the American public suspects funny business. A USA Today poll from September found that 42 percent of Americans believed the administration deliberately manipulated gas prices ahead of the elections.
In other words, 58% didn't believe that.

By 2008 gas prices were on the rise again. There was an election coming up, but for some reason Bush and the oil companies decided not to lower the price of oil to help out John McCain. This didn't win him any points with the media though. No, now high gas prices at a time when low ones would be politically savvy were actually going to help Bush.
Contrived or otherwise, today's soaring gas prices are a tangible bonanza for Bush/McCain. Offshore drilling would put billions in their cronies' pockets, but would not lower gas prices a single cent. Nuke power could mean billions more in radioactive lucre for reactor builders who may never deliver a single electron of electricity.
I could cut and paste that whole crazy rant, but for one thing it would be poor netiquette and for another I don't want to make your brain hurt.

Your friend and mine, Nancy Pelosi, penned a press release calling for investigations and an end to tax subsidies and all kinds of neat sound and fury stuff.

Mr. President, we have worked together to enact the first increase in fuel economy standards for cars and trucks in 32 years, dramatically boosting efficiency standards for buildings, lighting, and appliances, and investing in homegrown biofuels. I respectfully ask you again to work with the Congress to allow the Justice Department to pursue oil cartel price-fixing, allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to investigate and punish price gougers, end taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil and invest those funds in renewable American energy. Lastly, your Administration must use the authority given to it by the Congress to end market manipulation. We cannot wait to act in the face of these prices increases.
Some of her rhetoric was good. I'm all for ending tax subsidies for oil companies. Where the Speaker and I part ways is that I also support ending them for farmers, auto companies, banks, unions, etc.

Now it is 2010. We aren't all riding public transportation to work. Wind farms aren't abundant. Neither is solar energy, steam power, flower power, hopenchange power or any other power except good ole fossil fuels. That is not to say anyone should expect oil to have been replaced by these things by April, 2010. But shouldn't we be a lot closer than we are if it were so bloody important?

I mean, I would have at least expected Washington D.C. to become a leader in alternative energy. A pilot wind power program. Solar panels on the Captiol Building. A saw mill on the Potomac. Something. Instead, we have calls for the ramping up of nuclear plants and the price of gas is still near $3.00 in most places.

Is the price of gas now unmoored from the actions of the President? Is $3.00 gas suddenly the result of market forces? Are "ordinary Americans" no longer burdened by high gas prices? Is there no need for the President to "do something"? Are the powers that be no longer reaping profits from the backs of car owners? Shouldn't the FTC and the Justice Department get involved?

Where's the outrage?

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