Democrats and Republicans in Washington D.C. have worked together and passed laws increasing offshore oil drilling leases available to the oil industry. Correspondingly, President Obama has ordered the Dept. of the Interior to expand the number of available offshore oil drilling leases. Only one year after the worst oil spill in American history, expanding offshore oil drilling once again has broad bipartisan support.
It’s hard to completely condemn these politicians when you consider the popular pressures pushing them. The recent bipartisan legislation, the Restarting America Offshore Leasing Now Act, was backed by 67 Congressional co-sponsors, who as a group received $8.8 million in campaign contributions from the oil industry. Fortunately, our representative Lois Capps (D-CA) remembered the ecological devastation visited upon the Gulf in 2010 and voted against the Restarting America Offshore Leasing Now Act. Of those 67 Representatives, 10 count the oil industry as their largest campaign contributor. As the saying goes, money speaks louder than words.
However, the words coming out of Washington’s politicians reflect who is funding them more than who elects them. After passing the Restarting America Offshore Leasing Now Act, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) proudly declared, “I’m certain — with $4 per gallon of gas — the American people will remember who listened to them and who didn’t.” However, Boehner is evidently not listening to the American people.
A recent CNN poll found 89 percent of Americans blame oil companies and 90 percent of Americans blame Wall Street speculators for the increase in prices at the gas pump. Considering these overwhelming majorities of Americans, Boehner is not listening to Americans when he leads House Republicans in opposition to ending tax breaks for oil companies. This Republican opposition is especially egregious considering the record-breaking profits of oil companies like ExxonMobil, which grossed $5 million an hour in the first three months of 2011 ($11 billion in Q1 FY2011).
The 800-pound gorilla in the room is the widespread expert opinion that expanding the outer-continental shelf oil drilling will not decrease gas prices (at most a five-cent decrease by 2030 according to U.S. Energy Information Administration). The real answer to what is driving up gas pump prices lies outside America. UCSD energy economist James Hamilton estimated that the Libyan civil war has increased crude oil prices about $20 a barrel (crude oil is currently $100 a barrel). Barrels of oil are the standard metric for discussing the price of what will then become refined into gasoline for your car.
It is lunacy to believe Congress or the president has the power to lower gas prices, because American oil production is only 7 percent of the world market. Even a massive increase in offshore or Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil drilling would “not make much of a difference in the world markets and prices,” according to analyst Phyllis Martin of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.There are no easy, quick answers to lowering gas prices. Only a long-term strategy of incentivizing alternative energy transportation will meet both President Bush’s and Obama’s goal of stopping America’s dependency on foreign oil.
Daily Nexus liberal columnist David Kornahrens is looking forward to trading his car in for a metro pass after graduation.