So far in 2022, national gas prices have averaged $3.77 for the year. That number is almost certain to go up; current prices are hovering around $4.70. Efforts to restrict Russia’s access to the global oil market are creating a shortfall that currently has oil trading at around $120 per barrel. But no matter how many times somber newsreaders talk about these record highs, the truth is, we’ve been here before—and not that long ago.
There have been several points in the past where the price of gas was well above the equivalent of $4 in current cash. That includes 2008, when the average over the whole year was $4.32, and 2012, when it was $4.47. That’s not a one-week high—in both years, inflation-adjusted prices were above the current level for brief periods—that’s an average across the whole year.
Here’s a graphic you’re unlikely to have seen on the news when the Very Serious People are making vague statements about how President Biden’s policies have affected oil prices.
The greatest single drop in U.S. oil production in history happened under Donald Trump. This came even as Trump was chopping away environmental regulations and delaying higher requirements for automobile mileage. It happened in spite of Trump authorizing pipelines and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and opening up national parks to exploitation. It happened because Trump so mismanaged the economy under the pandemic that not even his favorite industry could avoid taking a nose dive.
Trump’s handling of the economy was so chaotic that it created a disruption in oil production from which the industry has still not recovered. That’s something that both Republicans and the media pretend never happened.
Since Trump left office, U.S. production has gone up, not down. The fact that prices were increasing before Russia’s invasion is explained by two simple facts: 1) Speculators were already doing what they do—speculating—by guessing that Russia was going to invade, and 2) Joe Biden’s economic policies were driving up growth in the U.S. generating a rising demand for oil.
In addition to driving the economy off yet another Republican cliff, Trump contributed to those prices at the pump in another big way. President Obama had put in place fuel efficiency guidelines that required 5% increases each year through 2026. Under Obama, manufacturers would have been required to reach 54.5 mpg efficiency for both cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025. Current efficiency requirements would be 48 mpg.
But as soon as he reached office, Trump began the process of rolling back those requirements. It became official in 2020, but the Obama requirements were never applied by the Trump Department of Transportation under Elaine Chao (Mitch McConnell’s wife). Under Trump, automakers had until 2026 to reach just 32 mpg. Over the course of his four years in the White House, the requirements for light trucks increased just over 1 mpg.
Which helps to explain sad tales like this “empty wallets, empty tanks” story in The Washington Post. The article may not be the most ridiculous thing ever published in the Post, but it’s up there. Especially since it starts out with blaming high gas prices for someone running out of gas while joyriding with seven friends on an ATV (and no, I don’t want to know how you get eight people on an ATV).
The article proceeds with statements like this: “Filling up a tank of gas, depending on the vehicle, can cost more than $100, which is the equivalent of 14 hours of after-tax income for certain low-wage workers.” Yes, it’s certainly possible to do that. At $4.70, a $100 fill-up buys 21 gallons of gas. Cars.com lists eight vehicles with gas tanks above that size, all of which are SUVs or pickups. The list starts with an Audi Q7 with a 22.5-gallon tank and ends with a Ford Super Duty pickup with a whopping 48-gallon tank. Amazing what those low-wage workers are driving these days. Oh, there’s also a Bentley in that group. That explains it.
Then there is this terrible plea for help.
Back in South Texas, Alaniz said fuel prices have forced changes in his commute and college plans. He used to make the roughly 60-mile drive from his family’s ranch near Alice to Corpus Christi, where he attends college, in his Chevy Silverado 2500, a large pickup that he estimates squeaks out 14 mpg on the highway.
Even with a part-time job, the charges have become unbearable. “You’re talking about $60 gives me half a tank,” he said.
So he’s trading in his Chevy for a smaller truck that gets better mileage.
A Silverado 2500 is a “super duty” truck that supposedly starts around $40,000, but with actual dealer prices of upward of $87,000. It’s twice as expensive as a plain vanilla Silverado. College student Alaniz is right in that it averages around 14 mpg, making it one of the least efficient vehicles available to consumers.
This guy isn’t running a construction company or towing cattle to the feedlot. He’s a college kid with a “part-time job.” Who happens to be driving a massively expensive, hugely inefficient truck to commute to classes. It’s not as if the changes Trump made to fuel economy standards really affected this case either, because a 2500 HD isn’t even considered a light-duty truck. It’s so large and heavy that it falls on a completely different schedule—one designed for commercial vehicles.
Highlighting this as an example of how gas prices are affecting America is ludicrous. And it falls right in line with a whole series of silly examples from the Post and other outlets designed to hype the impact of inflation into a disaster that’s somehow the Worst Thing Ever.
There are hundreds of vehicles available that get much better gas mileage and cost much less. The top five hybrid automobiles all average over 50 mpg and all start well under $30,000. Just last week, GM lowered the cost of two models of all-electric vehicles by $6000, with the lower-priced model now $27,000. That puts it on par not with the average new car price (now over $45,000), but with the average price of a used car. With a range of 259 miles, that EV would gobble up a 60-mile commute without an issue—and the cost to drive that 60 miles would be a fraction of what it costs to drag that massive truck to school each day. It seems like the kind of thing a poor college student might want. Of course, it might not provide the proper ego boost of a giant vehicle that weighs in at 6,900 lbs.
Buying massive pickups and SUVs was not just a choice, it was a gamble. People blew a huge amount of money on vehicles that are both very expensive to own and very expensive to operate. They knew that at any moment, gas prices could increase because it has happened time and time again in the past. That they’re now paying for that choice is like saying that someone who bluffed on a bad hand at poker is now having to hand over their chips.
Vladimir Putin is to blame for the gas prices. So is Donald Trump. So is every Republican and every auto executive who, over the years, fought against improvements to fuel efficiency standards, assuring that American roads are filled with massive, inefficient vehicles. All of them contributed to either pushing down the supply or raising the demand for oil, which is why current costs are where they are.
But the people who bought those vehicles are also to blame. It was always a gamble. You knew that.
Published with permission of Daily Kos