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Fed up with higher gas prices? Get over it

Fuming over gas prices?

Plenty of politicians are, hoping to rile or appease voters.

U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, faults the president for an “anti-American” and “disastrous” agenda on oil. U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, calls high prices at the pump a “crisis.” U.S. Senate candidate Alex Lasry, a Democrat, wants to suspend the federal gas tax for six months.

Bowing to pressure, President Joe Biden is releasing 50 million barrels from the nation’s reserves to try to calm critics.

But here’s the deal: Gas prices really aren’t really very high, and burning fossil fuels isn’t the future. Increasingly, spewing carbon pollution into the air is going to cost more because of the damage it poses to our climate.

The average price per gallon in Wisconsin last week was $3.09 for regular unleaded gasoline, according to AAA Wisconsin. That’s a lot more than the $1.90 a gallon state motorists were paying a year ago, and more than three times as much as the 99¢ per gallon in mid-April 2020.

But that incredibly low price was during the depths of the pandemic, when demand for fuel tanked. Many people were working from home last year, and some lost their jobs. Businesses and schools closed or limited in-person service and learning.

Today is so much different than back then — even with another variant of the deadly coronavirus on the loose, which vaccines should help contain. The U.S. economy has added 3.7 millions jobs over the last six months, and unemployment is down from 14.7% in April 2020 to 4.2% today (and just 3.2% in Wisconsin).

So of course gas is going to be more expensive than it was last year or even earlier this year. Moreover, some consumers are paying less than before the pandemic because they are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles. Inflation also means that the peak price of gas in Wisconsin of $4.11 per gallon back in 2008 would cost $5.28 in today’s dollars.

Instead, today’s average price of $3.09 in Wisconsin is lower than it was at the end of November in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and only marginally higher than before the pandemic began, according to data from AAA Wisconsin, which has closely tracked prices for decades.

The average price of gas over the last decade was about $2.80 a gallon. The annual average so far for 2021? $2.83. Compare that to eight, nine and 10 years ago — when the average annual price was above $3.50 — and today’s price appears modest. And in the two years before the pandemic, annual gas prices in Wisconsin were $2.53 and $2.65, with peak prices of $2.85 and $2.95 in 2019 and 2018, respectively.

We understand that for many people $3 a gallon is painful — especially lower-wage earners with older, bigger cars that get poor gas mileage. But help is on the way in cleaner-burning cars with tax incentives to bring down their price.

Ford just provided some welcome and telling evidence of that. It’s building an all-electric F-150 truck for 2022. So we won’t have to give up popular pickups to help ease climate change.

As part of his “Build Back Better” spending plan that recently cleared the House, Biden hopes to offer up to $12,500 per electric vehicle to spur consumer demand. And in the bipartisan infrastructure bill the president recently signed into law, motorists are getting 500,000 chargers by 2030.

The infrastructure bill also will bolster public transportation so fewer commuters need to drive cars. Madison is getting a faster and more appealing bus system. Rural Wisconsin is getting faster internet, allowing more people to work from home.

And in the short term, economists expect the price of gas to fall.

America must continue to transition to cleaner energy on the highway, at work and at home. $3-a-gallon gas won’t — and shouldn’t — change that.

– Wisconsin State Journal

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