High Gas Prices: Amid the Political Rhetoric, The Cold Hard Truth

When the House Natural Resources Committee takes up the issue of what to do about high gas prices beginning on Thursday, expect more finger-pointing, more chants to increase drilling – and in the end, nothing but more pain at the pump for you and me.

As I’ve written before, we can’t really do anything meaningful and substantial about ever-increasing gas prices until we do something about the fundamental problem: Our addiction to oil.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind amid all the rhetoric about gas prices we’ll undoubtedly hear from Congress in coming days and weeks:

*More domestic drilling won’t work. If we had followed the “Drill Baby Drill” crowd in 2008 – the last time gas prices reached this high – we could be tapped out of our nation’s entire oil supply by the end of this year. That’s right, the end of this year. The cold hard truth is that we consume 19 million barrels of oil every day in this country and produce less than half that much. The United States has only 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Our supply cannot meet our demand, so prices will continue to rise. And the faster we drain our limited reserves, the more beholden to OPEC – home of 70 percent of the world’s proved reserves – we (and our kids and grandkids) become.

*Claims that environmental rules and Obama administration policies are keeping us from producing more oil and gas in the United States are false - plain and simple. Don’t just take my word for it. Such claims have absolutely no merit,” Moody’s Analytics economist Christ Lafakis recently told the Media Matters Web site. Michael Canes, research fellow at the Logistics Management Institute and former chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute – the oil industry’s trade group -  told Media Matters it’s “not credible to blame the Obama administration's drilling policies for today's high prices.” And when House Energy and Commerce Commission Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican, recently claimed that his plan to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate dangerous carbon pollution would somehow magically stop gas prices from going up, the Pulitzer-prize winning fact checker Politifact called Upton’s claims patently false.

*High prices at the pump kick you and me in the teeth and drain our bank accounts, but for Big Oil it means big profits. Yes, unrest in the Middle East, a recovering economy and other factors are part of the reason behind recent price spikes, but guess who benefits (other than oil-exporting nations like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela)? Big Oil. The five largest privately held oil companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell - earned profits of $951 billion over the last decade. That’s nearly $1 trillion sucked out of consumers’ checkbooks and pumped into theirs.

So what to do?

To break our enslavement to high gas prices, we have to break our addition to oil.

For starters, increasing the fuel efficiency of our cars to 60 miles per gallon by 2025, something the NRDC advocates, would save nearly three million barrels of oil PER DAY by 2030.  Passing a 21st Century transportation bill that would increase the availability of public transportation would save commuters an average of $850 per month in gas costs. Passing public policy to get more electric cars on the road – something that every car manufacturer wants to do – would save millions more barrels of oil each day.

President Obama has proposed a bold agenda that will help promote many of those game-changing ideas, but it’s up to Congress to put it into action.

Our elected officials on Capitol Hill can do that beginning this week as they start their hearings on high gas prices. We can only hope they’ll follow the president’s lead and push for real changes instead of just pumping out the same old rhetoric, the same old blame and the same old slogans that ultimately won’t really move the price of gas.