President Biden’s climate agenda has been blocked by Congress and the Supreme Court. But one thing the president doesn’t like is dropping emissions of heat-trapping gases: high gas prices.
Even if gas prices eventually slip below $5 a gallon, many people are cutting back on their driving a bit. But not everyone can. Federal data shows June gas sales are 5% lower than the same time in 2019, and spring miles driven are down 6%. Experts say high gas prices are politically hurting people’s wallets and Biden, but only eating into the climate problem.
As Congress and now the Supreme Court thwart the Biden administration’s efforts to curb climate change, one thing the president doesn’t want — sky-high gas prices — is actually snacking on heat-trapping gas emissions. .
Gasoline prices across much of the United States topped the $5-a-gallon mark last month before declining slightly, and Americans responded by driving slightly less, two sets of data show. June gas sales are about 5% below pre-pandemic 2019 levels and 2.6% lower than a year ago, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
In April, data for the last month was available, Americans traveled 6% fewer miles compared to the same month in 2019, according to transportation analyst Michael Sivak, a former University of Michigan professor who follows from long-standing driving and car buying habits. This 6% drop is tiny compared to the 40% drop in kilometers traveled in April 2020 when the pandemic broke out.
Yet a 6% drop in driving roughly translates to just a 1% drop in overall carbon emissions in the United States, Sivak said. The US climate goal is to halve carbon emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels.
“High fuel prices are a really difficult thing, because they’re a double-edged sword,” said Samantha Gross, director of the energy security and climate initiative at the centrist Brookings Institution. “So prices that are high and expected to stay that way have a longer term ability to reduce demand and I guess the administration wouldn’t mind that, but the problem is people hate it. “
High gas prices are ‘unequivocally’ good for fighting climate change, as people use less fossil fuels and emissions go down, but poorer people, who have no other options, ‘suffer also the most,” said climate economist Solomon Hsiang, director. from the Climate Impact Lab at the University of California at Berkeley. Carbon emissions cause harm, especially to future generations, but for decades cheap gas has meant “nobody pays for that harm”, he said.
Now people are paying more when they go to the gas station and some are changing their habits.
Richard Gowan, 56, of Brighton, Michigan, used to drive 26 miles to his Ann Arbor workplace twice a week in a 2021 Ford F-150 pickup. gasoline at nearly $5 a gallon, it cut a quarter of truck trips. “That one doesn’t come out of the driveway as much as it used to,” he said as he filled up his tank near work.
To save money, he replaced a small Jeep Renegade SUV, which gets significantly better fuel economy than the 24 miles per gallon he gets with the pickup he bought to tow a trailer. The tow still happens because he doesn’t want to give up on family vacations, Gowan said.
He blamed high gas prices on the policies of President Joe Biden. He wants Biden to open more boreholes and predicts that engineering will eventually solve climate change.
In San Diego, where gasoline costs more than $6 a gallon, Simmi Paul said his family has also cut back on driving. Her daughter, a university student, now walks 10 minutes to work and takes public transport to school rather than driving.
Even though the July 4 holiday weekend saw record numbers of people on the road, they weren’t driving that far ‘because they can’t afford the cost of gas,’ the doorman said. – American Automobile Association spokesperson, Devin Gladden. People who have to drive, he said, “try to find ways to combine some of their errands or maybe if they’re able to carpool for work, they find ways to reduce the quantity of gasoline that they must buy and put in their Vehicles.”
Biden has often said he doesn’t want high gas prices, attacked oil companies’ multi-billion dollar profits, proposed new offshore oil and gas drilling despite campaign promises and offered a tax waiver on gasoline, which congressional leaders say won’t fly. Asked whether conservation should play a bigger role in adjusting to high prices, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “Americans are going to do what they think they are fair to themselves and their families. It’s not something we have to pass judgment on.
Biden’s confidants know that high gas prices hurt people and the president politically.
“The thing is, there’s been a lot of studies on this – it’s just psychologically that the way people tend to view the economy is through inflation,” said John Anzalone, a pollster Democrat who worked for Biden. “People tend to focus on the pain points.”
Watch the pump for the sore spot.
That’s about $200 a week for Pat Blevins, 42, a carpenter from Waterville, Ohio, who was filling up the gas in his 2016 Chevrolet Silverado at a gas station west of Toledo, Ohio on Tuesday. “He likes to eat gas,” he said of his truck, which he says gets about 15 miles per gallon.
When gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008, American auto buyers quickly ditched pickup trucks and large SUVs for smaller, more efficient vehicles. But when it hit that level again in early March, there was little impact on new-vehicle sales in the United States, where about three-quarters of vehicles sold are SUVs and trucks.
“Even at $5 a gallon, it’s hard to find evidence of changing habits” and buying small, gas-efficient cars, said Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting for consulting firm LMC. Automotive.
This is partly because of the worldwide shortage of computer chips. Automakers send the chips they receive to factories that build bigger, more profitable vehicles, Schuster said.
Still, if small cars and SUVs were more readily available, Schuster says he’s confident people would buy them.
Blevins said he would consider the new electric Silverado to replace his gasoline-powered model “if it’s worth it and if it can perform like a gas can (truck).”
Sivak believes $5 a gallon of gasoline is the price that’s changing Americans’ car habits right now, still well below the price paid in Europe and much of the rest of the world.
“When you talk about the real results of the energy transition (towards less carbon pollution), part of that means things are going to get more expensive and we need to come up with better solutions on how we finance and ensure that everyone can participate in the energy transition and it’s not just for the wealthy or the privileged,” said AAA’s Gladden.
Some economists, such as Hsiang, have called for a carbon tax of 25 to 50 cents a gallon above the market price “to address the damage caused by climate change” and reduce carbon pollution by reducing the demand, but with profits partly returned to people and partly used for green energy projects. But at the same time, he said, “rising petrol prices are hurting poorer families more,” so the government should send them financial aid but not subsidize cheap petrol.
Biden’s proposed gas tax exemption “is a subsidy, it pays people to pollute,” Hsiang said.
Brookings’ Gross said Republicans wrongly blame Biden for the gas shortage because he canceled a pipeline that had little to do with gas prices. She said the global gas price spike is mainly due to pent-up demand and supply issues after the pandemic and the Ukrainian war.
“I really feel for Biden because he’s in this situation where he wants to do climate stuff and his base is like ‘yeah, we want climate stuff’ and he ran over it and he personally thinks about it, I think,” Gross said. “But he’s in this situation where he’s getting hammered on high gas prices.”