President Bush said Tuesday that he has no “magic wand” to affect gas prices. In reality, gas price is “all about government policy.” As the United States has some of the lowest gas taxes in the world, the price at the pump is dominated by the cost of oil:
The rise in the price of oil in recent years involves four components:
— The effects of supply and demand. Exxon Mobil senior vice president Stephen Simon testified the supply-demand equilibrium is at “somewhere around $50-55 a barrel” — about half the current price.
– The weaker dollar. Since 2001, “the dollar has lost 45% of its value” against the euro. In 2003 one gallon of gas in the U.S. cost $1.50 and 1.50 Euro. Today’s $3.60 gallon of gas costs only 2.25 Euro.
– Geopolitical risk. Since 2003, the United States has been committed to a three-trillion-dollar war in Iraq, the heart of the turbulent oil-producing world. Furthermore, the burning of oil is continuing to increase global warming, “one of the greatest national security challenges ever faced.”
– Speculation. “Investors have looked to commodities
not only as a hedge against inflation but as a hedge against the tumbling greenback.
In recent years, the United States has gotten locked into a vicious circle in which the latter factors worsen each other. Suspending the federal gas tax would exacerbate the problem — in the words of Thomas Friedman, “we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.”
Immediate action to deal with rising gas prices should deal with the root problems, not worsen them. Center for American Progress analysts Sam Davis and Daniel J. Weiss describe how a demand-independent “reliefbate” plan could be paid for by closing several oil tax loopholes. The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin further recognizes that there are “two hugely significant factors” that President Bush could affect immediately: “the war in Iraq and the value of the dollar.”
But the federal fuel tax is but one brushstroke in a much broader picture. As the Center for American Progress’s energy opportunity agenda states:
The realities of global warming and our growing dependence on oil, much of it imported, will make energy more pivotal than ever to our economic, environmental, and national security fortunes in the 21st century. The challenge we face is nothing short of the conversion of an economy sustained by high-carbon energy — putting both our national security and the health of our planet at serious risk — to one based on low-carbon, sustainable sources of energy. The scale of this undertaking is immense and its potential enormous.