Call it, for lack of a better phrase, the “Gas Price Derangement Syndrome.”
Prices at the pump go up and down all the time, but when they take a sharp upward turn, motorists and the media take notice and like Pavlov’s dog, politicians shun responsibility and promise to do something about it.
The syndrome is particularly virulent in California because the state traditionally has the nation’s highest gas prices, largely due to high taxes and other unique factors.
The current spike, roughly $2 a gallon over the last two years, is running true to form. In 2019, when gas was about $4 a gallon, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the California Energy Commission to investigate rising gas prices, mirroring a similar step by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.
The Energy Commission reported that, as any motorist knows, prices were notably higher at stations owned by major corporations than they were at independent stations. It raised the possibility of illegal price-fixing and Newsom asked the attorney general to investigate. That was two years ago, but no results have been announced.
Gas prices continued to rise, with the most recent spikes attributed to post-pandemic demand outstripping pandemic-constrained supply and sharp increases in the global oil market in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It is, however, an election year and politicians feel compelled to respond. This week, the speaker of the state Assembly, Anthony Rendon, created a special committee to investigate.
It’s not likely to be an objective inquiry since Rendon has already concluded that oil companies are engaged in “price gouging” and he wants the Legislature to “stand up to the profiteers who are abusing a historic situation to suck profits from California’s wallets.”
About the Author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. For more columns by Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.