Will Curbing Carbon Emissions Cause a Gas Price Spike? No, No It Won't.


Image: Tewy, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.5

Oh, politicians. They say the darnedest things. Now, I'd never accuse any congressman of bending the truth myself -- I'm just a trusting kind of guy -- but when a Pulitzer Prize-winning, nonpartisan fact-checking institution makes such an accusation, I'm inclined to pay attention. Case in point: Fred Upton (R-MI) has been in the news lately for undertaking legislation that would revoke the scientific finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health -- and preventing the EPA from clamping down on the nation's biggest polluters. Upton has been saying that his legislation will do all kinds of wonderful things, like keeping gas prices from rising! Could that possibly be? Well, my headline already gave it away -- no, it can't says Politifact.

Here's Upton's claim, which he outlined in a letter he wrote to supporters:

"H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, is the first in this legislative series to stop rising gas prices by halting EPA's Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations ... We have taken the first steps in attempting to restrain this regulatory overreach that will restrict oil supplies and cause gasoline prices to rise."
Upton's claim is -- tenuously -- based on the idea that requiring greenhouse gas-emitting oil refineries to install cleaner, more efficient technology would end up forcing oil companies to to raise gas prices to compensate. Of course, he uses vague language to make it sound like similar regulations are already causing the rise in oil prices, and that eliminating them will stop that rise. This is preposterous -- oil prices are of course rising due to the conflict in the Middle East, and projections of thinning supply in the rest of the world. Upton's claim is a contrived attempt to jump on a prevailing trend, little more.

But even the element of his claim that might seem marginally valid -- that pollution controls would be so expensive that the costs would be pushed down the line to gas prices at the pump -- is dubious at best. First of all, the greenhouse gas regulations will not go into effect for another 1-2 years, so passing his legislation will have absolutely 0 effect on prices now. Second, there are a slew of other factors that are far more important in determining the price of gas -- as the revolutions in the Middle East evidence -- making it impossible for Upton to claim he can stop gas prices from rising.

Thus, Politifact sums concludes the following in regards to Upton's assertion:

While Upton and Whitfield's letter is carefully worded, it frames the argument for the bill in the context of today's trend of rising gasoline prices. Yet the impact of the bill -- if there is an one -- would be years away. And there's no proof that the law would actually stop gas prices from rising. The added regulations now being planned may hamper U.S. refiners, but the international free market could just as easily end up keeping refining costs low. And it's hardly assured that any changes in refining costs -- up or down -- will influence gasoline prices, which are subject to a wide array of influences. We find their claim False.
This assessment should do more than out Upton for bending the truth -- it should help us recognize that of all the things that forcing major polluters to clean up their acts might do, causing gas prices to rise simply isn't one of them.

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Tags: Congress | Oil | United States

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