News Story

When it comes to high gas prices, the pain is the point

The Biden administration is honest about its desire to move to green energy

AAA reports that America’s brief national nightmare, gas prices above $5 per gallon, is over, at least for now. As of Thursday, the national average is merely $4.94 per gallon. Michigan is far above the mean, at $5.11 per gallon.

If you have wondered why relief is slow in coming, you need only listen to the words of Biden administration officials.

“No more drilling on federal lands,” candidate Joe Biden promised in a 2020 Democratic Party debate. “No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one.”

As energy costs began their rapid acceleration last year, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the high prices showed “exactly why we should be, as a globe, focusing on getting our resources from the sun, from the wind, from the technology that we’ve developed in electric vehicles, etcetera.”

“Families who own [an electric] vehicle will never have to worry about gas prices again,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told MSNBC's Jonathan Capehart last November.

Although the president now blames oil companies for failing to produce more oil, he was making favorable comments about high energy prices as recently as May.

The administration appears determined not to let the energy crisis go to waste. Officials see it as useful in fueling a transition to alternative energy – whether or not reliable alternatives are available.

“This is a planned thing,” said Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “If you drive the price of gasoline up so high that it makes sense to switch to an electric vehicle, then they've achieved their purpose. So that's what they're doing.”

Power and energy prices “have always been a driver for what they view as essential social change,” Hayes added. “They believe people use too much energy and need to stop it.”

Hayes said Biden’s team has had a “schizophrenic kind of policy.” It expresses concern for high gas prices on the one hand but then refuses to pull policy levers that would make a positive difference. Worse, the Biden team pulls the levers that depress domestic production.

On the 2020 campaign trail, candidate Biden vowed to move the nation away from fossil fuels. On his first day in office, Biden closed the Keystone pipeline.

“The market is trying its best to make up for the shortages that have been imposed by government policy,” Hayes said. “For decades now, they have been trying to push this.”

Hayes said the domestic oil and gas industry is hesitant to invest in the infrastructure and permits necessary if it believes it is marked for extinction by the government.

Recently, Biden spoke of a three-month federal gas tax holiday. That would help if it happened, experts say, and some states have made similar moves to suspend their gas taxes.

“If states follow President Biden’s request to halt their state gasoline and or diesel tax, it’s not impossible that some states could see fuel prices $1/gal lower than their 2022 peak with wholesale prices also declining recently,” wrote gas price expert Patrick De Haan on Twitter.

The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon.

Michigan has not joined the state-by-state effort. In April Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a Republican-led effort to suspend Michigan’s 27.2 cent-per-gallon gas tax.

But even if the tax holiday had been enacted, it would not have kicked in until 2023. Michigan is one of a handful of states that also assesses a gas sales tax. That 6% tax applies to gas purchases. A push to suspend Michigan’s gas tax would need to start anew, but it would also have Biden’s blessing.

Would Whitmer sign a bill that gives Biden a win, if it also gives Republicans one?

“Joe Biden needs to decide whether high gas prices are good or bad,” Matt K. Lewis writes in The Daily Beast.

“Joe Biden keeps saying the quiet part out loud,” Lewis wrote. He quoted Biden, who on Monday said, “We have a chance to make a fundamental turn toward renewable energy, electric vehicles, and across the board.”

But Biden’s words were not a gaffe. They’re his genuine position – high gas prices are a necessary evil, perhaps more necessary than evil.

“The fundamental turn” is the endgame.

If relief came quickly, people might not feel a need to change. Every time you or a loved one says you’ll buy a bike or take the bus, in the eyes of Team Biden, that’s another convert.

When it comes to high gas prices, the pain is the point.

Granholm, who was governor of Michigan during its one-state recession, in May called the notion that Team Biden is rooting for high gas prices false.

“We do want to see a movement toward electrification of transportation, but we know that people aren’t in a position, many people are not in a position to buy an electric vehicle today,” Granholm said, in remarks quoted by The Daily Caller.

Granholm was soon contradicted by Biden himself.

“Here’s the situation,” Biden said in a May 23 press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. “And 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.”

This is Build Back Better as energy policy: Use a crisis to fuel a transition. As if people who struggle with $50 fill-ups are in the market for $50,000 vehicles.

“The most flattering way of putting this would be to say that we have a visionary president who is focused on long-term solutions, while a lot of Americans are struggling right now,” Lewis wrote. “But by playing Mr. Brightside, Biden is raising suspicions that he cares more about social engineering than about the little guy.”

Biden has spoken. We don’t need spin doctors to understand him. Biden believes high gas prices are good. Until they become politically costly. Then they can come down, a bit, for a time.

We should take Biden at his word, given that he’s said it so many times.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.