Osburn: Politics at the pumpWritten by Ben Osburn | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The issue of high gasoline prices has become a political hot potato, one that each presidential candidate, as well as President Barack Obama, has weighed in on.
As of March 14, the average gasoline price was $3.81 a gallon, the highest it’s ever been at this time of year. Politicians always make it a point to say that the United States is dependent on oil from the war-torn Middle East and to some extent this is true. But according to 2011 estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, by far the most oil comes from Canada, at about 2,800 barrels a day. Following in a distant second is Saudi Arabia, then Mexico.
Canada is of particular importance because it is there where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would start.
The pipeline, temporarily nixed by the Obama administration, would start in the oil sands of Calgary, Alberta, and transport crude oil to refineries in Texas. The pipeline has brought controversy, due to the alleged harmful effects of the oil on the environment. The pipeline would route over the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, sparking concerns over whether it would dirty drinking water for 2 million people. The Obama administration largely rejected the pipeline because of a “rushed deadline” passed by Congress. It encouraged TransCanada, the company building it, to reapply for a permit that does not include going over the aquifer or the Nebraska Sand Hills.
Amidst slipping approval ratings and an energy secretary, Steven Chu, who recently repealed comments about boosting the price of gas to European levels, the Obama administration has been quick to tout its achievements in domestic energy production. It cites the improvements in domestic oil production, which it claims is at the highest level since 2003. The administration touts the success of the “cash for clunkers” program and points to increases in auto fuel economy as a means of weaning the country away from oil consumption. It also cites increases in natural gas production, the likes of which haven’t been seen in 30 years, and a surge in green energy production.
Obama defended his “all of the above,” energy strategy and said there is no quick fix to rising gas prices.
Not surprisingly, the GOP candidates have been quick to lambaste the president’s energy policy. All the candidates approve of building Keystone now. Former Gov. Mitt Romney has taken an interesting approach, saying that the country “deserves” the Canadian oil.
Rick Santorum has stated that the building of the pipeline is “absolutely essential,” and that it would provide a safe way for jobs to be created and oil to be transported. Newt Gingrich approves of the pipeline as well, and posits that the Obama administration has continuously rejected measures that would decrease gasoline prices.
Gingrich arguably has the boldest energy plan. His campaign claims that if elected, he would drive gasoline prices to below $2.50 a gallon. His plan to do this not only involves approving Keystone, but reopening areas on the Gulf of Mexico for energy exploration, and ending the ban on oil shale development in the American West. However, in response to this, Obama labeled $2 gas aspirations a “political move.”
In addition to supporting Keystone and drilling for domestic oil and natural gas with the rest of the candidates, the Santorum campaign has taken a tough stance against government energy subsidies. If elected, Santorum said he would eliminate all government energy subsidies and tax credits. This would include money for renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy, as well as tax credits for hybrid vehicles. Doing so would free up the marketplace for other forms of domestic energy production. Santorum believes that it is not the government’s role to force green technology into the marketplace.
The Romney campaign has put particular emphasis on nuclear energy production. If elected, Romney says he would expand Nuclear Regulatory Commission capabilities to allow for more nuclear reactors to be developed. While not taking as harsh of a stance as Santorum against alternative energy, Romney would reduce its operational funding and shift the money to fund more apolitical measures, like basic alternative energy research.
Ben Osburn is a graduate student in political science at the University of Toledo.