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Thu., March 22, 2012

Editorial: Global supply, not Obama, causes shifts in gas prices

You can’t tell it from the weather, but spring has arrived. One telltale sign is the seasonal rise in gasoline prices, and blood-pressure readings.

To hear Republicans tell it, this is President Barack Obama’s fault. He’s helping out his green energy buddies. Back in 2008, the Democrats blamed President George W. Bush. He was doing favors for his old oil buddies.

The political spin is pretty slick, and it plays into the apparent belief that Americans have a right to some of the cheapest gasoline prices in the world. We endure out-of-control health care prices, but a bump at the pump? Launch an investigation!

Even those who know better carry the expectation that the president should at least commence to drilling for “the truth.” Consider this line of commentary from CNN correspondent Ford C. O’Connell: “Even most of those who agree presidents can’t do much to lower gas prices acknowledge they must be perceived as doing everything they can to ease the suffering.”

By all means, in the name of political strategy, let’s have Obama feed the myth that presidents control the price of a global commodity.

In all seriousness, is that something we’d even want him to do? For what other products should he set the price? And what should those prices be?

What we need is someone to tell our pampered selves the truth about oil dependency, global supply and demand, and the need for conservation. President Jimmy Carter did this more than 30 years ago. If we had listened, instead of laughed, the joke wouldn’t be on us today. Instead, once the oil shocks and embargoes of the 1970s passed and prices plunged, we threw the nation’s energy policy into reverse, and the sale of nascent SUVs and other gas guzzlers soared.

Now, India and China have entered the market for gasoline, and the demand has soared. Prices have predictably followed. The rise and fall of gas prices follow the same trajectories worldwide. The United States simply doesn’t produce enough to move the needle. Domestic production is up 15 percent since 2009; we exported more oil than we imported last year.

Calls to ramp up production to lower prices miss these simple facts. A recent historical look by the Associated Press undermines political rhetoric:

“A statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices and U.S. domestic oil production … shows no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump,” AP reports. Adding, “If more domestic oil drilling worked as politicians say, you’d now be paying about $2 a gallon for gasoline.”

However, even if you can’t lower gas prices, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to save money. You can drive less, join a carpool, take public transportation, walk and bike. You can inquire about telecommuting or working four days instead of five. These responses would make a real difference.

Or, you can continue to wait for political intervention, and see how far that gets you.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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