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Sierra Daily

Mar 14, 2011

Gas Price Gimmicks

Gas prices Pants don't fit anymore? Try shooting up with  human chorionic gonadotropin, a pregnancy hormone!

Can't quit smoking? Take up smokeless cigarettes.

Unrest in North Africa raising the price of gas? Increase domestic oil production by a tiny amount, give inefficient and polluting refineries a new lease on life, and get rid of regulations that would reduce U.S. petroleum consumption by 25 percent.

If you're looking for fake solutions to real problems, Big Oil's many loyal followers on Capitol Hill have them in spades. Senators Kay Baily Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) think the answer to higher gas prices to to increase domestic drilling. Dean Baker at Beat the Press performs the easy evisceration:

There are zero, nada, no projections that show that oil and gas reserves in the United States are large enough to allow the country to replace the fossil fuels that it imports. It currently imports about 11.5 million barrels a day, down from its pre-recession level of 13 million. Its domestic production is about 5.6 million barrels a day, and dropping. (It had been around 10 million a day thirty years ago.)

Projections from the Energy Information Agency show that if we drill everything in sight, we may be able to increase domestic production by 1-2 million barrels a day (it would take a decade to get this gain). That would mean that we would be very lucky to reduce dependence of foreign oil by even 20 percent.

Oh yeah, and it would take ten years to get there.

Representatives Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) have a slightly different proposal to lower gas prices. Their H.R. 910 would take away the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases. What does that have to do with the price of gas? Upton and Whitfield write to their colleagues:

"Gasoline prices have climbed dramatically over the past three months. American consumers deal with this hardship every day, and as this poll indicates, the majority of respondents do not see the pain subsiding anytime soon.  Americans also understand the realities of supply and demand as it relates to oil prices. Unfortunately the White House does not. ...

"H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, is the first in this legislative series to stop rising gas prices by halting EPA’s Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations. As one small refiner testifying before the Committee on Energy and Commerce put it: ‘EPA’s proposed [greenhouse gas] regulations for both refinery expansions and existing facilities will likely have a devastating effect on … all of our nation’s fuels producers….  If small refiners are forced out of business, competition will suffer and American motorists, truckers and farmers will be increasingly reliant on foreign refiners to supply our nation’s gasoline and diesel fuel.’

"We … have taken the first steps in attempting to restrain this regulatory overreach that will restrict oil supplies and cause gasoline prices to rise."

Would that really help gas prices? Politifact looked into it and says: False.

The impact of the bill -- if there is an one -- would be years away. And there's no proof that the law would actually stop gas prices from rising. The added regulations now being planned may hamper U.S. refiners, but the international free market could just as easily end up keeping refining costs low. And it’s hardly assured that any changes in refining costs -- up or down -- will influence gasoline prices, which are subject to a wide array of influenes. We find their claim False.

Here's something that Upton and Whitfield's H.R. 910 would really do: revoke the EPA's ability to let California set tougher fuel-efficiency standards than the rest of the country. Since automakers don't want to make separate models to sell in the Golden State, California's standards effectively raise the bar for the whole country. The California Air Resources Board estimates that H.R. 910 would "roll back scheduled cuts in pollution and petroleum consumption by 25 percent nationwide."

So instead of a real solution to dependence on petroleum--reducing consumption by 25 percent--we get a fake solution. No thanks! I'd rather GO 60 MPG--and then get off oil altogether.

--Paul Rauber 

Image by iStock

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