Gasoline Taxes Aren’t Why You’re Paying More at the Pump
A common cry is that gasoline taxes are just too high, so we need to either cut those taxes or temporarily remove them. Some form of a federal gasoline tax has existed since at least the 1930‘s, and every president since Reagan has been increasing the tax. The federal gasoline tax mostly goes to pay for the highway system we drive on. NPR has a great infographic about what all goes into the price of a gallon of gasoline. Come to find out, federal taxes on a $3.83 gallon of gasoline are just $0.184 per gallon – or less than 5%. This 18.4 cents per gallon tax has been flat since 1997 when gasoline was a measly $1.20/gallon. Sure, we could save 18.4 cents per gallon by scrapping the tax, but we’d end up paying for the federal highway transportation system some other way (higher income taxes, perhaps?).
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve Can’t Help Much Either
The U.S. federal government stockpiles crude oil in case of a national emergency. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve contains more than 700 million barrels of oil, bought and paid for by your taxpayer dollars – a huge subsidy to the oil industry. The U.S. consumes about 20 million barrels of oil daily – so the SPR contains about 35 days worth of supply. Presidents have released petroleum from the SPR in 2005 (after Hurricane Katrina), 2008 (after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike), and most recently in the summer of 2011 (in response to the instability in the Middle East). The Cato Institute has noticed that when the U.S. releases the SPR, the Saudis simply reduce oil output – so global supply stays tight, and prices stay high. The Heritage Foundation put together a pretty telling chart (below) about what happens to gasoline prices after the SPR is released (e.g., not much). However, what the chart fails to show is that there was an overwhelming concern globally about how the Japanese earthquake would dampen that country’s appetite for crude oil – oil prices were dropping globally because of speculation on the Japanese demand.
The Only Real Solution to High Gasoline Prices: Cut Back on Oil Consumption
Whether it’s market speculation, massive political unrest in the Middle East, demand decline in a natural-disaster ravaged country, or the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, there are many factors that are simply out of our hands when it comes to the price of gasoline and oil.
However, we do have control over how much gasoline we purchase. By using simple conservation measures (properly inflating your tires, driving the speed limit, and not driving aggressively), people can control their personal fuel consumption and reduce their overall costs. Updated Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards can also help – like President Obama’s new 54.5 mpg standard by 2025. Better yet, taking public transportation, riding a bike, walking and eliminating unnecessary car trips, can also reduce gasoline costs. But perhaps the best solution is to turn away from oil completely, and rely on electricity for our transportation needs.
SACE has been afforded the opportunity to drive around a Nissan LEAF since October 2011. This car is 100% electric, has about 100 mile range and does not rely on gasoline. A full charge costs about $2.40 to drive 100 miles in a LEAF – effectively $0.80 per gallon of gasoline equivalent. As more renewable energy is used to generate electricity, our cars will be powered by completely clean energy (like solar panels or wind turbines instead of dirty fossil fuels). To be sure, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome before electric cars dominate the car market here in the U.S.; however, the benefits of electrifying the fleet (among them, lower “fuel” costs) clearly make this a worthwhile endeavor.