Expect Calls for More Drilling, Until Somebody Tells the Truth About Gas Prices
Sarah Palin took to Facebook Tuesday to hammer President Obama on recently rising gas prices. In a post titled “The $4-Per-Gallon President,” the former governor revisited some tried and true “drill baby, drill” talking points before getting to this one:
“Through a process of what candidate Obama once called 'gradual adjustment,' American consumers have seen prices at the pump rise 67 percent since he took office. Let’s not forget that in September 2008, candidate Obama’s Energy Secretary in-waiting said: 'Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.' That’s one campaign promise they’re working hard to fulfill!”
It's a charge that Palin isn't the first politician to use against Obama. Let's unpack it a bit:
- Palin accuses Obama of rooting for a gradual increase in oil prices rather than the sharp shocks we saw in 2008 and are again seeing this year. Presumably, this means the former governor either prefers the chaos and economic instability that accompany major oil spikes, or that she simply believes gas prices will continue to stay flat for all of eternity.
- Palin then moves on to criticize Energy secretary Steven Chu, who before reversing himself to ease his confirmation process in the Senate, supported a steady increase in gasoline taxes to “coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work.”
Within the green transportation community there's little argument over whether the longterm interests of the United States and world would be better served by having slightly-to-significantly more expensive gas. Hybrid and electric car owners aren't the only ones who understand this though. Secretary Chu seems to as well, and President Obama himself is almost certainly at least aware of the arguments supporting such a policy (even if it's one he wouldn't touch with a 10-foot poll.)
But in continuing to coddle the public by attributing “high” gasoline prices to temporary factors like political unrest in North Africa, the President is setting himself up to be hit again and again by the “drill baby, drill” crowd.
Not since Jimmy Carter famously spooked an already terrified country by telling it it needed to learn to get by with less energy has an American president told us the truth about the necessity of radically improving the fuel economy of our vehicles. Until that happens, the myth that we can somehow drill ourselves out of a looming energy crisis will continue to perpetuate, and the urgency of reducing oil dependency will continue to take a backseat to the urgency of reducing pump prices back to levels where late night talk show hosts won't joke about them anymore.
Most Americans remain somewhat oblivious to how much gas actually costs in other parts of the world. The nearly $10-per-gallon price that Palin quotes in her Facebook post shouldn't be posited as a warning sign to the dangers of European socialism, but rather as a reminder of how much gas might actually cost here soon.
In fact, if not for the litany of expensive subsidies, tax loopholes and dubious foreign policy dealings that by most accounts have actually kept fuel costs in the United States artificially low, we might not be too far off from $10 gas right now. The National Defense Council Foundation and several other groups have published estimates that put the “true” cost of the fuel several dollars higher than the $3.50 we pay on average today.
In the President's defense, he did recently seek to end many of the tax breaks targeted toward oil and natural gas production in the 2012 budget. But that measure is likely to fail—in part because politicians still feel more pressure to keep their constituents' transportation expenses temporarily low than to protect them from having to absorb thousands of dollars in new out-of-pocket costs down the road, once gas prices jump to $5 per gallon and beyond.
At some point, President Obama or one of his successors will have to stand up and offer the American people a clear choice: start paying for your oil at the pump while preparing to permanently replace it as the country's dominant transportation fuel, or continue to pay for it at the end of the year in the form of tax dollars sent to oil companies and weapons systems purchased for foreign dictators—while receiving no protection from the inevitable upswing in oil prices that will someday make $3.50 gasoline seem like a quaint reminder of simpler times.
Meanwhile, figures like Sarah Palin will continue to capitalize off of high oil prices during election years, as a confused public wonders why their President isn't doing more to keep pump costs down.
Is “drill baby, drill” easier to digest than reality? You betcha. But that doesn't mean politicians who otherwise support plug-in cars, green energy and higher fuel economy standards should allow Sarah Palin's great Alaskan pipe dream to frame the energy debate.
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