By Patrick McIlheran
June 2, 2022 – As you fill up with gas that as of Thursday averages $4.84 a gallon in metro Milwaukee, remember that the progressive movement in Washington, D.C., long has wanted fuel to be priced as a luxury good.
Credit them, too, with the consequences, all foreseeable.
This isn’t to say that the Biden administration intentionally caused gas prices to spike.
But prices that happen to spike are as long welcomed by some American politicians as is rain by a farmer in drought, even if he regrets the erosion.
“Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” said Steven Chu, in 2008, the man who two months later was hired as President Barack Obama’s energy secretary. His point was that higher gas prices would force Americans to buy smaller cars, live closer to work and use less gas.
Then came years of punitive “carbon” taxes on fuel. “How hard would it be to live with a tax of, say, $300 a ton?” asked one characteristic columnist in the New York Times, daily diary of the ruling class. That translates to $3 a gallon. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” went light on a carbon tax only because she didn’t think fossil fuels ought to be permitted at any price.
The drumbeat continues to the present.
“When it comes to the gas prices, we’re going through an incredible transition that is taking place that, God willing, when it’s over, we’ll be stronger and the world will be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels when this is over,” said President Biden last month.
And if he didn’t cause the “incredible transition,” he certainly didn’t avoid it. His first day in office, Biden decreed an under-construction major pipeline dead. Within a week, he restricted leases for oil and gas production. His regulators since have been scurrying to scare off investors and retirement funds from putting a dime into oil or gas production.
Pressured, Biden and his team tried blaming the spike on Russia invading Ukraine, but the fact is that while gas averaged $2.096 a gallon the week of Nov. 9, 2020, it had risen briskly to $3.41 a gallon by the week of Nov. 8, 2021 — up 63% long before Putin gassed up his tanks.
While gas averaged $3.01 a gallon from 2008 to 2016, according to the Energy Information Administration, it fell to an average $2.48 a gallon in the four years following 2016. Then, in early November 2020, what had been a four-year steady, even declining, trend suddenly took a sharp upward turn.
Last month, even as members of Congress criticized oil companies for daring to make money, Biden’s Interior Department canceled the sale of offshore drilling leases and has made no plans to resume them. Perhaps they fear that someone still would be willing to risk investing in the energy production the administration has worked so diligently to suppress.
The result? Gas at $4.84 a gallon, for one thing. Buy an electric car, suggested Biden’s transportation secretary while touting a plan to use your money to subsidize them.
The bigger reality? Narrowed life options. Take, for instance, a woman who works at a bank in Oconomowoc and lives about a 15-minute drive away. Shayna Goeman told The Federalist in March, back when gas was only about $4 a gallon, that while she wanted to move farther away to find cheaper rent, “The commute wouldn’t be worth it.” She said she would instead look for apartments closer to work, meaning higher rent.
“It’s a no-win situation at the moment,” she said.
But if you move closer to work, you’ll pay more for that too. As his fuel costs soared, the owner of Madison’s Two Men and a Truck franchise told WKOW-TV, “We don’t have, you know, a big stockpile of cash sitting somewhere where we can absorb these kinds of things.” His prices will rise.
Maybe just stay put and order in? Good luck. Delivery drivers have been cutting back their gigs, seeing as fewer of them pay enough to cover soaring fuel costs. “Drivers are going to be dropping like flies, which then means the consumer gets screwed a little bit,” a Milwaukee Uber driver told Wisconsin Public Radio.
Billboards alongside interstates plead for workers to come make sausage or cheese or car parts or cranes in the small-city factories that are so foundational to Wisconsin’s economy that companies and towns share the same name. The jobs offer great pay — $38.75 an hour and benefits immediately, one pleaded — as Wisconsin manufacturers continue their years-long struggle to find enough employees.
Thanks to the “incredible transition,” that $38.75 an hour is fighting a sharp new headwind. Port Washington used to be $5.87 of gas away from Milwaukee’s south side by F-150 pickup truck at the prices prevailing in November 2020. Now it’s more than double that at $13.55 per trip. Fond du Lac was a $13.62 commute. Now, it’s $31.46 every day, unless you move there.
That will put a dent in the family budget, especially if your line of work can’t telecommute, as in the case of nurses and welders. The average American household is suffering about $2,000 more in gasoline costs this year, experts estimate.
But it also means diminished opportunity because it means fewer employers within affordable commute distance of potential employees. It means a reduced recruiting radius for employers, especially manufacturers still making a go of it in the towns where they’ve had a plant for a century or so.
That is, if those plants stay open amid the threatened blackouts. The nonprofit that oversees North American electrical grids warns that the Midwest is at high risk of electricity shortages this summer, especially on still days, when the windmills are useless décor. That’s mostly because the region that includes Wisconsin has lost about 3,200 megawatts of reliable generating capacity since last year.
That’s more incredible transitioning, thanks to the Biden administration’s regulators making war against hydrocarbons and, in Madison, the Evers administration’s insistence that Wisconsin will have sworn off devilish carbon in just a few decades. All the windmills and solar plants being furiously built still provide a single-digit fraction of Wisconsin’s electricity, while fossil fuels provide about three-fourths, so you can see where the math poses a problem.
Especially if you’re trying to run a factory that relies on a steady power supply.
Remember, this is what they wanted.
Patrick McIlheran is the Director of Policy at the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.