August 31, 2009

August 31, 2009 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

Pumping to Perdition

Labor Day signals the end of summer-vacation season. Will this summer also turn out to be the last cheap one for gasoline? The Obama administration and Congress certainly seem intent on making it so.

Although pump prices from Memorial Day through today were far from a bargain -- about $2.60 per gallon -- they were more than $1 lower than last summer, when prices exceeded $4 a gallon for the first time ever.

We can attribute much of the drop since then to the recession and reduced demand for gas. Millions of people no longer have jobs to drive to. Others have saved money by cutting back on or canceling vacation plans; businesses have made fewer deliveries, etc.

But recessions don't last forever, and if nothing is done to boost the supply of affordable fuel, the pain at the pump will return as soon as the economy recovers and demand increases.

Politicians should use this time to help stave off the next gas price spike. Instead, they're trying to do the opposite.

The worst "solution" is the Waxman-Markey "cap and trade" bill, which aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use.

Proponents claim that emissions are warming the planet to dangerous levels, so they're seeking to limit how much gasoline and other fossil fuels Americans use. The bill would cause gasoline prices to rise high enough so the public would use less and meet the bill's ever-tightening energy-rationing targets. It's a deliberate effort by the U.S. government to make gasoline -- not to mention electricity and natural gas -- less affordable.

According to a Heritage Foundation analysis, the bill would boost the price at the pump by 20 cents per gallon when the provisions take effect in 2012. The targets get tougher each year, and by 2035, the increase would be an inflation-adjusted $1.38 per gallon -- and that's on top of any other price increases that might occur.

By the way, even if one assumes the worst of future global warming -- though there are sound reasons not to -- climate scientist Chip Knappenberger of New Hope Environmental Services estimates that this bill would reduce the Earth's future temperature by no more than 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2100. In other words, it's all economic pain for little or no environmental gain.

At the same time, President Obama and Congress are cracking down on domestic production of oil. Last year, in the wake of public outrage over $4 gas, President George W. Bush and a Democratic Congress repealed the restrictions on energy leasing in 85 percent of America's territorial waters. However, the Obama administration has reversed the pro-energy momentum from last year, thus far refusing to open any new areas to leasing and even canceling some existing leases.

Meanwhile, Congress has introduced bills that would further restrict domestic oil and natural gas drilling, both onshore and offshore. As it is, the United States. is the only oil-producing nation that has placed a significant portion of its domestic potential off-limits, and Washington is about to make it worse.

Gasoline prices are notoriously hard to predict, but it seems the current respite from high prices is likely temporary. If demand comes roaring back while supply is constrained by federal global-warming and anti-drilling policies, we easily could see a return to $4 gas -- or worse -- in the summers ahead. Better hold off on those future vacation plans.

Ben Lieberman is a senior policy analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ben Lieberman Senior Policy Analyst, Energy and Environment
Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Related Issues: Energy and Environment

First Appeared in The Washington Times