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The speech Gov. Newsom needs to give about California’s high gas prices
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

If you feel like a sucker in a casino playing the slots when the final numbers line up these days when you are pumping gas keep this in mind: It is the price we pay for being a Californian.

I enjoy a good yarn about conspiracy theories as much as anyone else but can Gov. Gavin Newsom come off his high horse?

Newsom wants to get to the bottom of why gas prices are so high in California. He wants the the state Energy Commission to answer his question by May 15 but with the proviso that he doesn’t want to be told it has anything to do with high taxes or the state’s tough environmental regulations.

Keep in mind every governor since the beginning of reformulated gasoline has demanded such inquiries. Each one has come back with the same politically incorrect conclusion that supply and demand dynamics exacerbated by what is essentially California’s unique closed market that requires a specific, unique, and more costly blend at refineries is a driving force behind our high gas prices.

Newsom – who up until now could argue his political forte was telling Californians perceived truths as he saw them that they didn’t want to hear whether it was gay marriage, the death penalty, the high-speed rail, or the Delta tunnels – has taken a turn toward being a run-of-the-mill hack politician pandering to people.

It would be nice to hear a governor of this state tell us what we have to hear:

“My fellow Californians:

“I understand your pain at the pump. Nobody likes $4 plus a gallon gasoline.

“But unlike other politicians in Sacramento who run and seek cover by blaming the oil companies for the fact the difference in our gas prices in California as opposed to the national average is costing a typically family of four in this state $1,700 more a year, I’m going to speak the truth.

“Whether you like it or not high gasoline cost is the price you pay for being a Californian.

“A big part of our higher price gas is the fact your leaders in Sacramento have wisely dictated a cleaner burning blend from the refineries that creates less air pollution. Back in 1992 on a spring day you could barely see the sharp rise in the Sierra mountain range less than 15 miles from downtown Bakersfield. Today it is relatively clear. Certain air pollution in the Valley has been slashed by more than 50 percent during the last 27 years while population has almost gone up 50 percent. Without reformulated fuel much of the air in this state would look like industrial cities in India where a day with a mile or two of visibility is a thing of joy.

“We are a state on the cusp of being home to 40 million residents with just over 30 million vehicles of which 14.5 million are cars and such, 14.5 million are trucks that move our economy and the rest are divided between buses and motorcycles. Back in 1970 we had less than 20 million people and roughly 15 million vehicles. We have a lot more cars on the road today spewing auto emissions that can get trapped in unique air basins created by the grandeur Mother Nature has carved with our soaring mountain ranges, the fertile Great Central Valley, and costal basins. You can thank reformulated gas that most of us can still see the landscape of this great state so vividly without hacking, wheezing, suffering from burning eyes, and have more years living to enjoy doing so.

“Those additional vehicles – double the number of just 49 years ago – are mercilessly pounding bridges and pavement. The good news is thanks to fuel efficient standards for new vehicles imposed by the California Legislature cars today are going farther on a gallon of gas and burning those gallons more efficiently to successfully reduce pollution. The bad news is because vehicles are more efficient the gas tax imposed to maintain and build roads that was unchanged for decades was seeing a decline in revenue and was getting clobbered by inflation.

“Yes, the extra 12 cents per gallon Californians have been paying at the pump for the past 16 months is partly to blame for gas prices over $4 a gallon. Take that away and many drivers in parts of this state would see the price at the pump drop below $4 almost overnight.

“That 12 cents a gallon, which is part of an overall state gas tax of 47.7 cents and an overall charge of 67 cents per gallon when the federal gas tax is added, does cost. Then let’s not forget the 7.75 percent sales tax added onto the price of a gallon of gas including gas taxes. That effectively adds another 30 cents per gallon of gas costing $4. That means for every $4 you are paying for gasoline 97 cents goes to taxes that we tell you about.

“There is also the question of greenhouse gas charges the state slapped on oil refineries over three years ago to offset air pollution they create. The Legislature refused oil industry requests to have the ‘charge’ added to the list of taxes you pay at the pump for obvious reasons. The party line at the time was that the oil companies would absorb the cost. If you have an understanding of basic economics you’d know that is a pile of horse manure. Those greenhouse gas charges the state slaps on fuel when it is refined is a cost of doing business that is passed on to consumers at the pump. Independent economists have put the charge per gallon at between 8 and 20 cents. For ease of calculation let’s say it is a dime. That brings the tax added on – hidden and otherwise – to at least $1.07 a gallon. There are other taxes the oil companies pay that they pass on but they are taxes basically to fund general government and payroll taxes. A large chunk of the greenhouse fees, by the way, are committed to the high-speed rail project that I am trying to bring back down to earth.

“We haven’t seen a new refinery built in California for more than half a century. This is an important point because of our requirement for a special blend just for our state. While no oil company has stepped forward to build one, let’s be honest. With the regulations we have in this state and the number of people and organizations that would fight such a proposal, the oil companies would have a better chance of replacing San Francisco’s Union Square with a landfill.

“One of this nation’s largest reserves of oil is the Monterrey Shale beneath almost all of the San Joaquin Valley and a large swath of the Bay Area. We also have more off-shore oil reserves. If those were tapped – along with additional refineries being built in state – it would drive down the price of gas at the pump. Let’s be honest though. That’s as likely as a blizzard dumping 10 feet of snow at Furnace Creek in Death Valley on July 4.

“Then there are those that would love to see gas prices peak above $7 a gallon as part of a government policy to do away with fossil fuels.

“If there is a grand conspiracy by anyone to drive up the price of gas it is those working to protect the environment, those wanting to get our air cleaner, drivers demanding decent roads and better transit, those who don’t want a new oil refinery in their community or more oil derricks off the coast, and the fact government services cost money.

“It might sound like a cop-out but I’d being lying to you if I didn’t tell you high gas prices are the cost we pay for living in this great state.

“Good evening and happy motoring.”

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.