Drivers are paying an all-time high for gasoline, with prices setting a record Tuesday despite White House efforts to bring down energy costs heading into the midterm elections.
The average price for a gallon of regular gas reached $4.37, topping the previous record of $4.33 on March 11, according to AAA. The price has jumped 17 cents in one week and 25 cents in the past month.
The spike comes despite President Biden trying to lower costs at the pump via several avenues. These include a historic release of 1 million barrels of oil per day for six months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, waiving environmental regulations to allow the sale of cheaper E-15 gas in the summer and resuming lease sales for new oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands.
Still, another gas price record only fueled GOP criticism and increased the pressure on Democrats to show voters they’re at least trying to lower pump costs.
“It’s already $5 [per gallon] in Nevada. We have a number of things that we should be looking at,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada Democrat.
She has been among a handful of vulnerable Senate Democrats who have pushed hardest for a federal gas tax holiday that would lob off 18.4 cents per gallon but that has been written off as a PR stunt by top Democrats.
Party leaders have also not acted on a slew of other Democratic proposals, such as direct consumer payments or a windfall tax on Big Oil to redirect some of the record profits back to drivers.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, suggested energy companies have played a large role in the lack of congressional action.
“Big Oil companies have armies of lobbyists and lawyers, and I think they have a lot of sway here. I hope we will take action,” he said.
In a speech Tuesday aimed at soothing voters’ frustration with rising prices, Mr. Biden blamed a “Putin price hike,” corporate greed, the pandemic and policies of uncooperative “ultra-MAGA Republicans.”
“I want every American to know that I’m taking inflation very seriously, and it’s my top domestic priority,” Mr. Biden said. “What I have to do is explain in simple, straightforward language what’s going on… I’m not suggesting the American people can’t understand it. They’re working 8 [or] 10 hours a day just to put food on the table.”
Gas prices have increased since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. However, they were already on the rise before the war due to a lack of supply amid increasing demand as pandemic restrictions were being lifted.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have become increasingly anxious about showing voters they’re tackling swelled gas prices. A push by party leaders for a federal probe into alleged price gouging by Big Oil is far from enough, rank-and-file members have said, as top Democrats have conceded it’s about “public sentiment” amid pessimism they can lower costs via legislation.
The price for WTI crude oil, the U.S. benchmark, and Brent crude, the global benchmark, have hovered around just over $100 per barrel for the past several weeks despite volatile ups and downs.
Energy market experts have noted that rising demand heading into the summer months and lagging refining capacity are likely the culprits of higher pump prices despite oil market prices remaining relatively the same. That means consumers will likely pay more for the foreseeable future.
“Demand destruction is really what you’re searching for at this point,” said energy markets expert Dan Dicker. “It’s not like the latest variant of COVID that goes away… You’re looking at a very, very long term upward pressure on oil and refined prices — no matter a recession or not.”
The previous record for gas prices before this year was $4.10 per gallon in 2008. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $5.36 today.
• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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