George W. Bush would like to sell you the idea that pesky environmental
regulations are keeping gas prices high.
You know President George W. Bush's ratings are in the toilet when he starts
bashing oil companies in the name of protecting what he repeatedly called "our
consumers," as he did yesterday.
And you know the Party in Power -- just back from getting an earful from angry
constituents about rising gasoline prices -- is shaking in its shoes at the
prospect of tomorrow's profit announcement by ExxonMobil.
So the president did what a floundering politician does: he tried to change
In this case, the president made the environment a scapegoat for rising gasoline
prices. He suggested a false choice -- lower prices at the pump, or dirtier
It was ironic that the president made his gas-price speech before the Renewable
Fuels Association, since the president was citing the association's main product,
ethanol, as one of the many reasons that gasoline prices have gone up. Actually,
most of the price of gasoline is determined by world crude oil prices, and the
presidential saber rattling over Iran hasn't helped that. But it's unlikely
the president will make a speech in Tehran anytime soon.
Regarding clean air requirements, the president noted that some state officials
are requesting temporary waivers of clean-gasoline standards as a means of reducing
price pressure. (Pennsylvania requested a waiver earlier this week for gasoline
sold in the Philadelphia area.)
A short-term waiver isn't the worst possible outcome, as long as it is extremely
limited. But health and environmental groups should and will protest any effort
to make long-term weakening changes to gasoline standards.
The real truth is that oil companies could have anticipated this problem and
planned for it better. Instead, they are taking advantage of a situation they
Compare the following presidential myths to the reality:
Myth #1: Clean air standards must be relaxed.
Under federal quality -- air quality laws, some areas of the country are
required to use fuel blend called reformulated gasoline. Now, as you well
know, this year we're going -- undergoing a rapid transition in the primary
ingredient in reformulated gas -- from MTBE to ethanol...
Yet state and local officials in some parts of our country worry about supply
disruption for the short term. They worry about the sudden change from MTBE
to ethanol -- the ethanol producers won't be able to meet the demand. And
that's causing the price of gasoline to go up some amount in their jurisdictions.
And some have contacted us to determine whether or not they can ask the EPA
to waive local fuel requirements on a temporary basis ... So I'm directing
EPA Administrator Johnson to use all his available authority to grant waivers
that would relieve critical fuel supply shortages. And I do that for the sake
of our consumers.
The reality is:
In last year's energy bill, Congress actually eliminated the requirement that
cleaner reformulated gasoline contain MTBE or ethanol. MTBE makers -- including
ExxonMobil -- decided to stop shipping its product after Congress refused to
give them a deal absolving these big water polluters from product liability
lawsuits. But the companies have known about that congressional decision for
nearly a year. They could have arranged a smoother transition to new gasoline
blends. But scarcity drives up prices -- and oil profits.
Myth #2: Environmental requirements have blocked oil companies from
building new refineries.
There has not been a new refinery built in America in 30 years.
The reality is:
In declaring that part of the problem is that we haven't built new refineries
in the U.S. in decades, the president is being simply disingenuous. As he
well knows from his days in the business, the big oil companies decided for
economic reasons that it was more cost-effective to expand existing refineries
than build new ones. In fact, they have managed those expansions to avoid
a gasoline glut that could lead to lower prices.
Myth #3: Some mythical entity has created "boutique fuels"
around the nation.
The number of boutique fuels has expanded rapidly over the years, and America
now has an uncoordinated and overly complex set of fuel rules ... I want to
simplify the process for the sake of our consumers.
The reality is:
Some states have adopted specialized fuels -- usually at the request of the
oil industry, which has frequently argued in favor of such fuels instead of
cleaner gasoline. The oil industry has frequently profited by this seeming
In last year's energy bill, Congress limited the number of future blends.
But the oil industry has not offered to return any of the associated profits
The president and Republican-led Congress could have seen the rising gas prices
coming miles away. The time to worry about it was last year when they were writing
the monster energy bill, loaded with subsidies to energy companies. That's when
concrete steps could have been taken to wean America from its oil addiction.
Instead, the president is exploiting the public's anxiety over gas prices to
advance his own oil-driven energy agenda.
Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean