Raining on the cheap gas paradeFor the first time in months, people are smiling at service stations as they fill their tanks with what they now consider to be cheap gas. They are also back to planning to drive several hundred miles to grandma’s house for Christmas and a dozen other trips that had been scratched from the family calendar.
By: Lloyd Omdahl, The Jamestown Sun
For the first time in months, people are smiling at service stations as they fill their tanks with what they now consider to be cheap gas. They are also back to planning to drive several hundred miles to grandma’s house for Christmas and a dozen other trips that had been scratched from the family calendar.
While households may regard the precipitous drop in gas prices as a providential gift, the impact of this decline on future energy policy will not be beneficial. There’s rain for this cheap gas parade.
Just because policy development is a slow grind in Washington does not mean that presidents or members of Congress are not listening to the citizenry. They ride the tide of public opinion and, in the final analysis, public opinion emanates from the pain being felt by people.
Four-dollar gas created a lot of pain. The pain was not evenly distributed falling hardest on folks in the lower socio-economic levels but even those who could afford $4 gas thought it was painful. So the politics of pain pushed energy to the top of the national agenda.
Now that gas has declined to less than $2, the pain has diminished and the pressure on Washington to do something about the energy problem has gone down with the price at the pump. Without persistent pressure from the people, Washington will push the energy problem to the back burner.
Unfortunately, the energy crisis is the same today as it was when gas was $4. All of the solutions are painful but with two-dollar gas there will be little or no public support for the pain of energy conservation measures or more costly fuel supplies.
Federal subsidies for the troubled ethanol industry will have a tougher go. So will forcing the automobile industry to start producing more fuel-efficient vehicles. So will research to achieve cleaner-burning coal. With cheaper gas, the public will be less willing to abandon gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs. And as long as there are buyers for these gas hogs the auto industry will keep churning them out.
Some energy pundits have suggested a heavy tax on gasoline to keep the cost high and the political pressure on. But support for such a tax in the public is non-existent and will not be passed without broad support.
The drop in gasoline prices has changed public opinion about the need for change in energy consumption, meaning that we will not contemplate change until the next energy crisis hits enough people to bring it back as a pressing issue. Until then, we will continue to dawdle on the issue. That’s what happened in the 1970s and it will happen again.
An observer of human behavior once noted that “the reason history repeats itself is that no one was listening the first time.” Or the second time. Or the third time.
(Lloyd Omdahl, of Grand Forks, is a former lieutenant governor, state tax commissioner and state budget director)