Letter: Presidents cannot lower gas prices
Gas prices and the president, can he really make a difference? In the second debate, the candidates were asked, since gas prices are often used as a way to illustrate a president’s success or failure, can they really lower prices. Many folks at this point will automatically say yes, a testament to the "tell a lie enough it becomes true" political strategists’ hard work. But no, gas prices are, for the most part, a function of OPEC and events.
OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, sets the per-barrel price at the wellhead for the whole world. Transportation, refining and speculation increase its value even more. Events such as civil war, oil spills and refinery fires can cause spikes also. Notice politics not mentioned so far? Oil is fungible, just like money, no matter where it is produced. We do not get a discount. Today, for example, Canadian oil (and natural gas) is being produced, transported through our country, some of it even refined into gasoline here and about 40 percent of the above shipped overseas for higher profits. Sadly so is a lot of ours.
We refine at or near capacity daily mainly because refineries cost over a billion to build and take about as long to build as a nuclear power plant. Yes, they are highly regulated because they are highly dangerous. More wells will only help if global supply is high enough to force OPEC lower. These things take decades to create any impact at the pump, so no one president can lower prices.
The president can open the strategic reserve, impacting short-term supply, but that is risky (Middle East) and is only temporary at best. At best, if prices are lower you get credit; if not, you still get credit (see political strategist).
The only true way to impact gasoline prices is to drill, build and subsidize—all expensive. We can subsidize drilling (done now), subsidize refinery construction (deficit creating), and we already subsidize fuel (biofuel). Alternative energy in all forms must be more than a sound bite, they must be supported.
The only real way we can lower gas prices long term is to separate ourselves from OPEC dependency and become self-reliant. This may cause energy prices to rise, tax increase and supply shortages, but in the end, we could control our fate and not have our international policy/economy tied to energy, and that could save trillions. No candidate is willing to admit the cost, even less support a comprehensive policy. Therefore, no, our presidents cannot lower gas prices.