The upside of a gasoline crisis

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, today said that the Obama administration favors higher gas prices: “This administration’s policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive.”

First, I have to admit that Barbour is cynically correct, but only if you read the above sentence like this: Haley Barbour … today said that the Obama administration favors higher gas prices … in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive. It is true, Obama himself has stated that he is not opposed to higher prices on gasoline (maybe because a sustained gas crisis would actually generate the political willpower to detox our foreign oil addiction). However, administration policies have NOTHING to do with the current rise in gas prices. Let me repeat that: ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CURRENT RISE IN GAS PRICES!!! The federal tax on a gallon of gasoline has not changed since 1993; it is currently 18.4 cents. There is an excess supply of oil in world markets, so the lack of new drilling permits in Gulf is not restricting production. In short, the sharp increases in gas prices around the country over the last couple of weeks are purely the result of market volatility and uncertainty about political developments in the oil rich Middle East and North Africa.

Even if the U.S. were suddenly able to tap all of its possible reserves (note, there is still debate about what amount of this is ‘proven’), it is only enough to last about 31 years at current consumption levels. And given that we presently produce 6 million barrels a day while consuming 20 million, it is beyond even my wildest dreams to think that our production could ever completely supplant foreign sources. In short, an energy policy that is based on oil and other fossil fuels will never allow us to be self-sufficient and will not support future generations of Americans that Republicans love to crow about protecting (i.e., me and my future children).

So what good can come from a gasoline crisis that would hit working-class Americans the hardest? It would force us to confront the fact that domestic politicos have very little long-term control over the price of oil and, subsequently, gas prices. And that if we truly want energy security, we’re actually going to have to invest in sources that won’t dry up unless the earth stops spinning or the sun explodes (wind- and solar-power, for those keeping score). So while the Obama administration is not actively raising gas prices, it is not afraid to confront the realities that underlie those rising prices because, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu points out, “When the price of oil goes up in the short-term, everybody gets very worried. But when it subsides, people forget that this is a long-term problem.”

While Democrats and Republicans agree that our energy sector should not be held hostage to foreign policy crises, Republicans’ (and some Democrats) belief that we can simply use domestic fossil fuels to solve our supply problem is simply ludicrous. Well, I guess it’s not ludicrous to Baby Boomers who will be dead before the oil is gone; but to someone like me who actually will have to deal with a post-oil society, I would prefer not to have to start developing that new infrastructure when the oil runs out. Instead, we need to recognize that there is still a place for oil in this world, but that it should be as a bridge to maintain supplies as we transition to renewable sources which can power our nation for generations to come. If politicians (like former energy lobbyist Haley Barbour) who oppose alternative energy development in favor of increasing oil production want to be taken seriously by working-class and younger Americans about protecting them from energy price fluctuations, they should cut the bullshit and get off the oil industry’s dick.

And maybe it’s just because I’ve had Gary Jules in my head all day and want to talk about it, but I think this really sums up the conservative solution to energy security: “And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad/The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had”

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