Explaining Gas Price Increases

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As gas prices rise, the first impulse is to blame the current president–regardless of party. This unfortunate assertion is based on a fundamental failure to understand causation in public policy, but it is a useful rhetorical tool, one Republican leadership is happy to use.

In an interview with Fox News last Tuesday, Former Vice-President Mike Pence laid the blame for rising gas prices squarely at the feet of Biden, saying:

In the four years of the Trump-Pence administration, we achieved energy independence for the first time in 70 years. We were a net exporter of energy. But from ver early on, with killing the Keystone pipeline, taking federal lands off the list for exploration, sidelining leases for oil and natural gas — once again, before Ukraine ever happened, we saw rising gasoline prices.”

Mike Pence, March 8th, 2022.

The reality is far more complicated and nuanced. For one, gas prices are seasonal and largely depend on the demand prompted by the consumer. Meaning that as people travel more during seasons like spring and summer, demand goes up, and gas prices soon follow. Additionally, the president’s power to directly influence gas prices in your area is always going to be limited by the conditions in your area. For example, Illinois has raised its gas taxes three times since 2019, having a far more direct connection to the rise in gas prices than anything Biden did. In other words, though leaders’ decisions affect gas prices, their overall influence depends on their level of authority, where they are, and the circumstances surrounding those decisions. And not, as some have argued, on the mere act of being president.

As for national gas prices, there are a few reasons why they are up. But first, the keystone pipeline argument. Aside from the fact that Keystone was almost certainly a violation of indigenous sovereignty and was amoral in its creation, it never was active. Thanks to oil-friendly judges, it had the legal go-ahead, but it never got the chance to be completed because activists opposed it for so long. Therefore, the Biden administration’s decision to negate the pipeline does not affect the current state of oil prices.

The main reason gas prices are rising is OPEC and the decline of oil supply, thanks to Covid-19.

OPEC, known as The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, slowed production during the pandemics heyday due to a decrease in prices caused by people not going out thanks to quarantine. Crude oil prices dropped extremely low, and these countries were losing money, so they did what they saw as reasonable at the time; they cut their production. No need to invest when there is no return on the prices. Come to the present day and most Americans are vaccinated, the world is opening up, and people are becoming more comfortable with living with covid-19. That inevitably means more travel and more demand for gas, but supply did not keep up. Combine that with the war in Ukraine right now. It should surprise absolutely nobody that the price of gas is going up.

Graphic taken from EIA.GOV

To add further context, the increase in oil prices and, by extension, gas prices increased in 2020, several months before Biden was inaugurated. Even if we were to support the idea that the president is always responsible for gas prices, the fact that the increase began in 2020 undermines the entire argument for Biden’s culpability.

With the ongoing war, the still-recovering global oil supply, and the continuing demand created by our nation opening up post-lockdown, oil prices will likely remain high for the foreseeable future. But that is not an excuse to inaccurate blame a president without any legitimate evidence supporting his culpability. Especially when such demonstrably false accusations serve the interests of right-wing politicians who couldn’t be bothered to establish a legitimate platform.

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