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Politics and Gas Prices

June 13th, 2008 · 10 Comments

It is ever so tempting to scream “GAS PRICES” and call for lowered gas prices if you are a candidate challenging for Congress or elsewhere. Ever so tempting to pander to (quite real) concerns about skyrocketing prices with counterproductive calls for cutting gasoline prices. These, however, fly in the face of the realities of Peak Oil and ever increasing demands for oil. Promising lower gasoline prices (or hinting at them) might (MIGHT) be good short-term political moves but is counter-productive in the long term and represents an abandoment of the type of leadership required in the face of Peak Oil and Global Warming.

The reality is that Bush Administration policies, such as filling in the strategic petroleum reserve even in tight supply times and fostering ever worse energy efficiency (promoting McSUVs) and going to war in Iraq, have aggravated the situation, driving prices even higher than they might have been otherwise. Thus, there are policy paths that could provide some relief and, potentially, turn the clock a bit on gasoline prices. But, even with DRILLING, the core requirement is to move toward ever more efficient use of oil. Some of this path is long term and investment required (such as moving toward electrified transport, whether rail or personal vehicles), some can be quite near term and nearly zero cost. That last (the near term, zero cost) creates a true opportunity for combing Energy Smart with Politically Smart.

“Good politics” is use campaign money for a certain number of hours at a gas station with the price back at the price when the local Republican congressman took office or when George the W took power. This can be great (short-term) politics but is counterproductive framing for the long-term: this suggests that (a) Congress really has something serious to say about the price of gasoline over the long-term and (b) that prices have (writ large) the potential for seriously dropping (’if only you’d elect the Democratic Party candidate …’). These, however, are fundamentally false and any sensible voter will recognize it as pandering rather than substantive.

Now, the messaging can be done for gaining the political impact while, as well, providing a messaging that supports longer-term efforts for better policy re energy (including transport).

Any candidate can create an “energy efficiency awareness day” (or such …). As the Edwards campaign did, campaign volunteers could go out and take energy actions to help foster energy efficiency. In this case, the candidates (and staff) could go to gas stations with air pressure readers and be filling tires that are low on pressure. (For every 1 psi drop in pressure of all tires, the car drops about 0.4 percent. The average car can gain 3.3 percent (or over 13 cents / gallon equivalency) through proper inflation.)

In addition to testing and properly inflating tires, the candidate/staff could hand out materials about inexpensive/immediate steps one can take to improve efficiency. According to the US Government, these include:

  • Check & Replace Air Filters: “Replacing a clogged air filter can improve your car’s gas mileage by as much as 10 percent.” Perhaps $10 for the filter to save 40 cents for every gallon of gasoline?
  • Tire inflation: Up to 3% (or more) in savings. Thus, over 13 cents / gallon savings for zero cost (and perhaps a Congressional candidate filling your tires).
  • Using the recommended motor oil for your car: Savings of 1-2 percent. Perhaps a few dollars for 5 cents savings off every gallon of gasoline.

There are plenty of other measures that can help for better fuel efficiency with existing vehicles such as removing weight from the car (roughly 1-2 percent lost fuel efficiency for every 100 pounds in the car as a rule of thumb … thus, if not needed, minivan car seats can stay in the garage (for example)) and getting a tune-up. In addition to efficiency, driving behavior can have a major impact on fuel efficiency. Again, from, thoughts on driving more efficiently:

  • Less aggressive driving: Speeding, rapid acceleration and braking, tailgating with frequent braking, accelerating into stop signs can decrease fuel efficiency by a third. In addition to the fuel savings of perahps $1 or more per gallon, “sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money.”
  • Limit highway speeding: Rule of thumb, every 5 mph over 60 mph “is like paying over $0.20 more per gallon.” (And, depending on speed limit, could also have that cost of a state trooper pulling you over.)
  • Avoid excess idling. Guess what, idling gets 0 miles per gallon. And, not surprisingly, the larger the engine, the more gasoline wasted while idling.
  • Cruise control: For most drivers, using cruise control will lead to gasoline savings on highway trips.

All of the things above are either zero ticket or very low ticket items. Depending on one’s driving patterns and the condition of your car, following the above could lead to the equivalent of a 50 percent drop in the price of gasoline. Now, which is more possible: to clean up one’s car and driving habits a little bit to get more from every gallon or that Exxon-Mobil (and Saudi Arabia) will figure out how to get Americans gasoline for under $2 gallon?

Now, if one wishes, all of these ideas can be tied to the utter failure of the Republican approaches to energy policy. (Dick Cheney holding private meetings with oil company executives with rubber stamp approval of policies by the Republican Congress.) And, the need for CHANGE!!! (E.g., keep on current path, without real change, anyone think it is going to get better?)

Now, if linked together with good organization, the campaigns could track how many psi (pounds per square inch) were added to the tires of what types of cars and provide, within a very short period, an estimate of how much gas citizens (of a Congressional district, a state, or the nation) are saving due to these volunteer efforts.

This could, of course, be done at a national level, for example by the Obama campaign. A truly wonderful way to mobilize the Obama volunteers to be visible, with Obama shirts on, giving a backdrop for Obama to give a talk about what we (as individuals, as communities, as businesses, as government, as society) can do today / immediately, what we might be able to do tomorrow, and what we should be working on to be able to do the day after tomorrow.

Efficiency is one of the legs of a sensible energy policy, a leg basically abandoned by Bush-Cheney. (Note: the energy efficiency elements (such as for appliances) are perhaps the best and most unsung achievements of the 2007 Energy Bill.) And, re Energy Efficiency, we can go an extremely far way in ameliorating our energy and global warming challenges (at a profitable basis, even within current economic definitions) through aggressive energy efficiency efforts.

Right now, citizens across America are suffering in the face of higher gasoline prices. For many people (such as in rural areas), talking about ‘public transport’ won’t go too far in these communities. Talking about the Chevy VOLT and hybrids like Prius won’t go that far. (And neither is likely to have much impact or importance today/in the near term.) Trying to make hay with ‘high gas prices, George the W’s / Republican’s fault’ might work politically, but, as above, risks creating the dangerous frame that Democratic Party is promising to lower gasoline prices. And, a large share of the public just won’t believe that message. A message that says that, unlike Republicans, Democrats will seek to address the problem(s) from all angles, working to help people get ‘Energy Smarter’ and in a better energy situation with every passing day (ameliorating gasoline price increases, such as ending purchases for strategic petroleum reserve (SPR), while also working to improve energy efficiency) might be more defensible.

Tags: Energy · Uncategorized · conservation · emissions · energy efficiency · fuel economy · political symbols · politics · pollution · transportation

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Get Energy Smart! NOW!!! » Following the money … // Jun 17, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    [...] 2025). Never mind that the resources are, generously speaking, limited. Never mind that there are efficiency measures that could lead to the equivalent of shaving 50 cents or more gallon. Efficiency…. Never mind because helping us (the US) really doesn’t seem to be behind this mindless, [...]

  • 2 Follow the money … « Energy Smart // Jun 17, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    [...] 2025). Never mind that the resources are, generously speaking, limited. Never mind that there are efficiency measures that could lead to the equivalent of shaving 50 cents or more gallon. Efficiency…. Never mind because helping us (the US) really doesn’t seem to be behind this mindless, [...]

  • 3 Get Energy Smart! NOW!!! » Blog Archive » What to do about gas prices? // Jul 15, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    [...] for programs to foster greater fuel efficiency in America’s cars & [...]

  • 4 What to do about gas prices? « Energy Smart // Jul 15, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    [...] for programs to foster greater fuel efficiency in America’s cars & [...]

  • 5 Yes Conservatives, Obama Was Right: Inflated Tires Beats Coastal Drilling « Eaton Square Exchange // Aug 4, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    [...] Where did he get that crazy idea? From George Bush’s Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency. (hat tip: Get Energy Smart! Now!) [...]

  • 6 ClaudeB // Aug 4, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    Wow, you were ahead of the curve!

  • 7 Yes Conservatives, Inflating Tires Beats Coastal Drilling // Aug 10, 2008 at 11:21 am

    [...] Where did he get that crazy idea? From George Bush’s Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency. (hat tip: Get Energy Smart! Now!) [...]

  • 8 Angry Words in VA, including on Energy // Oct 5, 2008 at 6:51 am

    [...] is extent in too much of the reality-denying know-nothing wing of the Republican Party. Guess what, inflating tires could have a real impact on individual’s requirements to pay for gasoline and …. For every 1 pound below recommended pressure in tires, a driver loses about .4 percent of tires.  [...]

  • 9 Shaving away at the oil addiction // Nov 12, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    [...] greater technical efficiency in today’s / existing cars (properly inflated tires, clean air filters, weight out of trunks, etc): 10% savings or roughly 1 million barrels/day. At what cost to the taxpayer? Perhaps a few [...]

  • 10 Zakaria error tweets its way around the world … // Mar 18, 2012 at 10:38 am

    [...] Politics and Gas Prices … with many ideas for paths to drive down total energy and gasoline costs quickly Share and Enjoy: [...]

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