Eager to halt President Obama’s recent boost in the polls, Republicans have quick to blame the president and his policies for the steady rise in gas prices seen nationwide.
But now those on the left have begun to sharpen their counter-attack, which is that it personal and corporate profit motive, pure and simple, which is to blame for the bigger bite consumers have been feeling at the pump.
Those in the GOP have long worked to tie Obama to higher fuel prices, as far back as Sarah Palin’s “Drill, baby, drill!” slogan. More recently, the Republican National Committee transformed a fun clip of the president singing a blues classic during a White House concert into a gas-price online attack ad.
An array of progressives, jousting with the so-called “one-percenters,” has become just as eager to push back against the Republican attacks, however.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has long blamed speculators and market manipulation for driving up gas prices, but he took his argument to a wider audience Tuesday, publishing an article on CNN’s website.
“Millions of Americans are paying what amounts to a speculators tax to feed Wall Street’s greed. People who live in rural areas like my home state of Vermont are hit harder than most because they buy gas to drive long distances to their jobs,” Sanders writes.
The Catholic Online website also quoted Sanders as saying that the current “tensions with Iran are a feeble excuse [for rising oil prices] because the fundamental laws of supply and demand do not support the current prices. Indeed, speculators work outside of those laws, placing virtual bets on the future price of oil based on rumors.”
Meanwhile, the United Steelworkers (USW) union points the finger squarely at corporations for closing three refineries in the Philadelphia area. The labor organization says data from the government’s nonpartisan Energy Information Administration backs up that contention.
Sunoco, Inc., announced in early September it would close its Philadelphia and Marcus Hook, Pa., refineries in July if a buyer was not found. In December, Sunoco decided to idle immediately the Marcus Hook facility, because of what the company said were poor market conditions. In late September, ConocoPhillips Co. decommissioned its refinery in Trainer, Pa., next door to the Marcus Hookrefinery, doing so within a week, according to the USW. The USW and several other unions represent most of the more than 2,000 workers at the three refineries.
This past month, Hovensa LLC in St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a joint venture of Hess Corp. and Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, closed its doors. Hovensa had been a significant supplier to the Northeast and the entire Atlantic seaboard, USW says. The USW represents about 1,700 refinery workers at Hovensa, while other unions represent another 500 contract workers.
“These closures are starting to impact fuel supplies to the Northeast and the situation will deteriorate further if Sunoco’s remaining Philadelphia refinery shuts down,” says USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, of Beaumont, Texas, who heads the union’s national oil sector. “Prices are up all over the region for gasoline and heating oil, and it’s fortunate we have had a mild winter, or else the heating oil situation would be much worse.”
The USW leader representing the refinery workers at Hovensa, Dan Flippo, director, USW District 9 in Birmingham, Ala., says: “Closing these refineries will make our country more dependent on foreign supplies of fuel and this is opposite of what our country is trying to achieve.” He relates the USW has been analyzing the options for the oil workers, and “we’re going to fight for refinery jobs because our nation needs to be able to produce its own fuel at prices we control.”
The EIA 32-page full report released Monday shows potential large shortages of gasoline supplies starting this summer, plus shortages of diesel fuel and low-sulfur home heating oil beginning this fall. There is currently no obvious way to ship products into certain areas traditionally supplied by the three refineries, particularly in western New York and Pennsylvania.
Higher energy prices in the Northeast are expected for years to come, according to the USW.
“It is time for Congress and the Administration to act. It is time for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to step up to the plate,” says USW President Leo Gerard. “It is late in the game, but if all parties work together this disaster still can be averted.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.