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Same old song . . . politicians rage about high California gas prices
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Memo to Gov. Gavin Newsom:

Stop patronizing us.

We’ve been down this road before.

Gas prices soar past $4 a gallon. Some political operative is worried the natives will get restless. This then prompts a state-level politician – legislator, attorney general or governor – to issue a statement saying they are outraged by California gas prices that are the highest in the country. The bigger muck-a-mucks grab the attorney general for a prop and go before the cameras to announce the state is investigating the matter.

Of course you added a special effect as Gavin “Take Action” Newsom by declaring the state will not only get to the bottom of this outrage but will pursue criminal charges if necessary.

Please spare us the theatrics. It’s not like you’re going to do anything anyway. 

We have to look no farther than Geyserville that is going up in flames and some 300,000-plus households that are without power today to know you’re just like every other pandering politician that confuses action with words. All of your stern words didn’t stop a devastating wildfire nor prevent PG&E and their more reasonable – and likable – for-profit electrical provider cousins in California from pulling the plug.

To be honest, why are you even worried about the price of gasoline? It’s not like you have to dip into your kids’ lunch money in order to be able to afford to buy gas so you can get to work. I seriously doubt you have ever had to pull up to a gas pump in your state chauffeured vehicle since you become governor and then pray to hell you haven’t maxed out the credit card so you can buy gas at $4.19 a gallon from a “brand name” station like Chevron.

Yes, we’ve seen the stats. We pay a minimum of $1 more per gallon than 46 other states at 60 cents more than three other states.

Unless you are channeling Rip Van Winkle, where have you been? Obviously not in California for the past 40 years as there has been an obscene gap between what everyone else in the country pays for gasoline and what we do since the introduction of reformulated gas.

This may strike you as strange, but I’m not willing to chug-a-lug the Kool-Aid of rage with you on this one even though high prices at a pump have a much bigger impact on me – and certainly in the case of many of my neighbors – than it does you.

Someone needs to be the adult in Sacramento and stop spinning everything. Just give us the truth.

With gas prices in California there is a lot of truth to what you see at the pump. A lot of the price difference is pain we simply have to live with unless you enjoy having pseudo “fog” hanging over half of California at high noon on the Fourth of July. The rest is pain inflicted by value judgment of which many you supported or made as did a lot of other Californians many of whom are also probably indignant about gas selling for $4.19 a gallon as well in the Golden State when you can fill up in Nebraska for $2.40 a gallon.

We are paying 35 cents per gallon in state specific gas taxes. And for today’s civic lesson governor, why are we paying that? It’s to help pay for road maintenance and construction as well as to fund mass transit needs. And who imposed the tax – and for good reason I might add? It was the people you hobnob with in Sacramento that have no problem taking campaign contributions from organizations such as PG&E that has a 20-year track record of not putting the best interests of 16 million Californians first.

And with gas going for $4.19 a gallon, we are forking over more in sales tax. That includes a half-cent for Measure L transportation projects, half-cent for Ceres public safety staffing, one cent for city use to help provide basic services and the rest to the state of California that is sitting on a $22 billion budget surplus that the Legislature is itching to spend.

Let’s go back to reformulated gas for a moment. You didn’t have to major in science or business when you attended Santa Clara University – the “B.S.” in political science fits you nicely, by the way. All you have to do is have common sense and an understanding of the geography and late 20th century environmental history of the state you are governing.

Forty years ago when we had 19.5 million people – 20 million less than we do today – as well as roughly half the amount of  vehicles, the skies were easily four times dirty than they are today. Key pollutants in places like the Central Valley half been halved since the early 1990s.

This happened for two reasons. First, but not the biggest reason, is better vehicle mileage. More miles squeezed out of a gallon of fuel means less gas burned and less pollution. You are right to defend California against the Trump Administration’s effort to take away an exemption the state was granted decades ago to set its own mileage standards and related benchmarks. The main reason is cleaner burning fuel known as reformulated gas.

Most of California’s population resides in big basins – the Los Angeles Basin and the Great Central Valley as examples – and in the shadow of coastal mountain ranges. Unlike windswept flat-as-a-pancake area like Nebraska pollutants from fuel as it is used lingers.

The only refineries that make reformulated gas are in California. We have not added refinery capacity since the early 1960s. Blame it on corporate oil if you want but that would ignore a hard truth. Between California’s intense – some might say heavy handed – environment regulations as well as rampant NIMBYism, trying to pursue building a refinery in California would be the equivalent of committing corporate suicide.

And here’s the real bottom line shocker. Californians are not benefiting from inexpensive shale oil production. According to the California Energy Commission, last year 31.1 percent of our oil came from wells in state, 11.4 percent from Alaska, and 57.7 percent from foreign sources. In 1982 when we were still worried about gas lines 61.4 percent of the oil refined in California originated from in state, 33 percent from Alaska, and 5.6 percent from foreign sources. These are the state’s own numbers. Do you see the problem? The least expensive oil is that extracted from shale in the United States. The most expensive is oil produced in the Middle East and South America. Unlike the rest of the United States that has slowly been weaning off foreign oil, California has upped its foreign imports 10-fold in 26 years.

Then there is the greenhouse tax that the state slapped on polluters such as refineries of which much of the money collected has gone to projects in other states and even Canada to reduce pollution instead of endeavors in California. Part of it is also earmarked for the high speed rail project to reduce travel time from Merced to Bakersfield.

Economists, depending upon which one you quote, put that greenhouse tax between 12 and 30 cents a gallon. You don’t really see it. The oil companies simply collapse it into the price of a gallon of gas.

Then there is that pesky thing called the minimum wage. The social justice you praise that got the minimum wage worker a pay raise now closing in on $3 an hour with more to come is putting the squeeze on low income workers that have to buy gas to travel to jobs to put food on their table as well as everyone else’s table — farm workers.

This is what you should be telling people. The truth is better than pandering.

You can make a strong case to defend the state’s actions that have driven up the price of gas whether it is being unfriendly to shale oil development within California because of environmental concerns to working to make our air cleaner.

You are our governor. Defend solid state actions and resist the temptation to resort to sound bite politics. Please govern and refrain from pandering.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.