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Gas Prices Are Plummeting—but Republicans Haven’t Noticed

Oil prices are crashing, thanks to a number of different factors.

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Photo: Rogelio V. Solis (AP)

It’s suddenly a lot less painful for Americans to pay for gas—but don’t tell that to the House’s new GOP leadership, who are determined to keep falsely blaming climate action for high energy prices.

According to the American Automotive Association, the national average for a gallon of gas on Thursday stood at just $3.47—a sharp drop from the highs this summer, when the price for a gallon reached over $5 in June. And average prices have gone down particularly rapidly this week, dropping 19 cents since before Thanksgiving and 7 cents in the past two days alone. Prices are only going to continue to dip lower: GasBuddy, a website that keeps track of gas prices, predicted Monday that prices could fall below $3 a gallon by Christmas.

This is, to say the least, pretty hardcore whiplash from the first half of this year, where already-high oil prices collided with the conflict in Ukraine to create jaw-dropping figures at the pump. But buying a tank of gas now is, price-wise, comparable to buying one at the beginning of the year.

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What the hell is up with prices right now? As we’ve previously reported, gas prices are a complex reflection of lots of different elements playing off each other, and have little to do with the policies of whatever political party is in power in the U.S. at the moment. Globally, there are a couple of big circumstances that have shifted around in recent months. Plummeting demand for oil from China, which accounted for 16% of all oil demand last year, is a big factor here. A new wave of coronavirus infections has hit the country in recent months, and the government’s harsh “zero-covid” policies have caused energy demand to crash.

There are lots of other factors at play, including an EU ban on Russian gas imports set to go into place this month, the end of summer driving season meaning less gas expended on the road, as well as countries including the U.S. releasing oil from their national reserves in recent months. The low gas prices, some experts say, are also a larger reflection of the looming global recession, as governments and families tighten their belts and prepare to be more frugal. Lower demand for oil reflects that anxiety.

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“We’re heading into [a] serious recession in Europe and further economic slowdown in the U.S. as people struggle with high-interest rates and worry about their personal wealth and savings,” Ben Cahill, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Washington Post. “Add it all up and it creates a bleak picture for oil demand. Prices are reflecting that.”

Through all these ups and downs price-wise, there’s one thing that holds true: Republicans will leap through hoops to continue painting the oil and gas industry as a victim and to claim climate action is directly linked to prices consumers pay at the pump. The GOP and fossil fuel defenders have seized every possible opportunity to blame rising energy prices on Joe Biden and his (relatively tame) climate policies, despite the complex set of international factors at play and the fact that Biden’s White House has, in many ways, actively encouraged more oil and gas production this year.

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In an op-ed published in the Houston Chronicle last week, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Rep. Beth Van Duyne of Texas directly blamed the Biden administration for high gas prices and accused the Inflation Reduction Act of further limiting American energy production.

“Our country needs to produce more energy, not less,” Scalise and Van Duyne write, “but Democrats designed their extreme climate agenda to restrict oil and natural gas production and, it seems, torpedo the industry.” In the op-ed, the two politicians promise that the new Republican leadership in the House will “fight for expanding American energy production…and reverse Democrats’ damage to the oil and natural gas industry.”

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Gas prices in the U.S. are the result of a complex web of different global factors, and can’t be tied to one set of domestic policies. But one thing is clear: oil majors are raking in massive profits this year and American oil and gas production is actually up from last year. If I had to guess, I’d think that the new Republican leadership will keep ignoring reality when they take power in the House next year.