Why Conservatives Should Embrace High Gas Prices

Gas prices are once again on the rise in America, and voters and presumptive-GOP nominee Mitt Romney have placed the blame on President Obama . But criticisms of Obama’s energy policies are not only disingenuous, but illogical. High energy prices provide a host of benefits for the U.S. economy that far outweigh the increased hardship of paying more at the pump. They are also driven by conservative policies, not the result of a “liberal” energy agenda.

GOP-supporters have once again invoked the “drill baby drill” mantra of the 2008 campaign as their go-to policy for reducing prices at the pump. But looking at the actual geo-politics and corporate incentives, it is clear that increased domestic drilling is a catch-22. Critics have called on the president to drill domestically to bring down gas prices, but companies will not drill unless gas prices remain high; otherwise it would not be profitable to do so. To support drilling in the U.S., conservatives must also support policies that keep gasoline prices at their current levels, but you’ll never hear that on the campaign trail.

Republican presidential candidates have spoken about thevirtues of free-market economics and consumer choice, so why not actually give choices to consumers when it comes to their energy consumption? Mitt Romney has lambasted President Obama for his failure to promote domestic drilling (in fact, new oil rigs in the U.S. have quadrupled over the past three years) and faults the President’s policies as not listening to American’s demands for gasoline. But even Romney seems to have forgotten that in his 2010 book, “No Apology,” he acknowledged that increases in the cost of energy are market-based incentives that conservatives should embrace, not shun. 

In fact, our oil-driven economy is the epitome of government intervention in the free-market. The oil and gas industry received an estimated $41 billion in federal subsidies in 2011. Without these subsidies, consumers would pay over $12.50 per gallon of gasoline. These prices are not affordable to most Americans and would have prompted a transition to a renewable energy economy decades ago. A true conservative candidate would allow the market to do its job, embrace higher gas prices, and allow consumers the choice to pay exorbitant prices for fossil fuels or embrace clean energy. I’m inclined to think consumers would choose the latter.

And now on to the all-important topic of job creation and the economy. Consider that the United States is now a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time since 1949. With this comes a host of benefits to the U.S. economy, including increased manufacturing capabilities, more tax revenue for local governments, a lower trade deficit, and decreased reliance on energy imports from dangerous areas of the world.

American refineries are the cleanest and most efficient in the world, and produce gasoline products that hold positive benefits for the entirety of the American manufacturing industry. Our country’s main net energy export is diesel fuel, leaving gasoline to permeate throughout the economy and leading to an abundant supply of energy for domestic use. More manufacturing means more jobs and a more robust, diversified economy, and ultimately improved manufacturing infrastructure for products such as wind turbines and solar panels. For all the GOP rhetoric surrounding job creation, presidential nominees should be praising Obama’s energy policy for boosting America’s manufacturing sector.

As someone with a strong commitment to addressing climate change and stopping reliance on fossil fuels, it is difficult for me to advocate on behalf of increased fossil fuel consumption in any form. But in a country as large and diverse as ours, we must compromise on federal policy to make any progress. It is simply astounding to see the lack of willingness on the part of our politicians to come out and say that high gas prices are good for this country. This is not a conservative or liberal idea, but a fundamental truth about supply, demand and price. Hopefully soon we will see a comprehensive, bipartisan energy agreement that maps a framework for an oil-free economy. But until then, consumers should stomach the burden of high gas prices and embrace clean energy for the good of all Americans.

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