Commentary: Politicians Aren’t Responsible for High Gas Prices? Oh, Give Us a Break


Ever since gas prices shot into the stratosphere, I’ve been hearing a chorus of apologists declare that elected officials aren’t responsible for high gas prices.

Well, I happen to be an elected official, and I don’t think that’s fair.

Thanks to your governor and state Legislature, there’s going to be another round of gas-price increases starting next year. And it’s going to be a steep one, likely more than a dollar in the short term, and even higher as time goes on. Our colleagues were so thrilled when they passed legislation in 2021 to increase gas prices they practically did a happy-dance on the House and Senate floors.

But now that gas prices have doubled in the last year, and the public is screaming at politicians to do something about it — for some reason nobody seems to want to talk about this anymore. I think this is a shame. We all ought to be talking about cap and trade and low-carbon fuel standards. We should give full credit to the elected officials who thought these were good ideas. Then we should wipe these nasty laws from the books before anyone gets hurt.

These two policies are designed to increase gas prices — deliberately, on-purpose — to promote the sale of electric cars.

Now that gas has hit $5 a gallon, though, it’s time for rethinking. The market has done an excellent job of raising gas prices all by itself. The state doesn’t need to help.

Public anger over high gas prices already has launched debate about temporarily suspending state and federal gas taxes and giving people a break for the next several months. It’s a terrific idea, we’ve got a great proposal in the state Senate, and we have plenty of money for it – we just got another $2.7B in our latest tax-collection forecast. I hope the president wins his argument with Gov. Jay Inslee on this one.

But we should be thinking bigger. We ought to eliminate this threat to the public well-being at the same time.

We know it’s going to be bad. A preliminary state report says cap and trade will cost three times as much as anyone thought last year. An independent study by the Washington Research Council says it will add 49 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas by 2024, and 80 cents by 2030. For diesel, it’s 59 cents by 2024 and 98 cents by 2030.

Low-carbon fuel standards come on top of that. The state is estimating LCFS will raise costs 19 cents a gallon for gas and 17 for diesel, but makes highly questionable assumptions. Independent estimates run three times higher. 

In California, where these policies have been in place several years, the price of gas is already 80 cents higher than Washington – and they’re only halfway to full compliance.

Some will argue these policies do other things besides raising gas prices. Like saving the planet. I’ve got bad news — they won’t. Washington produces just two-tenths of 1 percent of the world’s carbon. Even if these programs work, they would reduce state output only a fractional amount. Any reduction would be offset by rising output in India, China and the Third World.

The most important thing these programs do is raise gas prices. I just don’t think we need to punish struggling families to encourage people with money to purchase brand-new electric cars, something they’re going to do anyway.

The Legislature ought to take this up next session. I hope it does. But the great news is that the governor can spare us the trouble. He can suspend these terrible policies with a stroke of his pen. Because he hasn’t ended his COVID emergency declaration from two years ago, he has extraordinary powers to suspend laws. His edicts are supposed to have something to do with COVID, but he’s the one who gets to decide, many of his decisions have been a stretch – and clearly this has something to do with COVID economic recovery. He can fix this all by himself.

I know this might be troubling for him, since these policies were his idea. But this certainly makes him an elected official who is responsible for high gas prices.

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Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, represents the 19th Legislative District.