Who Is To Blame For Higher Gasoline Prices?

Presidents like to take credit for low gas prices and higher energy production, but the reality is a bit more complex than that.

You probably have noticed that gasoline prices are again on the rise. Predictably, I have already seen stories arguing about President Trump’s culpability in this current price rise.

It never fails that when gasoline prices decline, a President and his allies are quick to take credit. And when prices rise, the opposition party is ready to cast blame. After all, this must be someone’s fault.

In fact, it’s usually never quite that simple. An argument that I laid out in my book Power Plays was that a sitting President’s policies rarely have an impact on gasoline prices, or on energy production in the short-term.

This is pretty clear if you look at the energy polices of Presidents since President Nixon.

Delayed Impacts

During the Nixon Administration, most Americans grasped that energy security was slipping away from us, as oil exports were increasingly controlled by OPEC. In October 1973, America’s psyche was jolted when the Arab members of OPEC announced an oil embargo against the U.S. The embargo was ultimately expanded to a number of other countries, and the result was a rapid quadrupling in the price of oil.

The Nixon Administration responded with Project Independence, the stated goal of which was energy independence for the U.S. by 1980. But President Nixon also authorized the Trans-Alaska Pipeline by signing legislation that cleared away legal challenges from those opposed to the pipeline.

Many Nixon initiatives had long-lasting impact, but not much of it was immediate. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline would have a huge impact — under President Carter. The Carter Administration had a very active energy policy, but oil production starting to climb during Carter’s term primarily because oil began to flow through the Alaska Pipeline.