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Some congressional Republicans are using rising gas prices to rail against President Joe Biden’s energy agenda.
Among those critics is Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who wrote in a tweet June 3 from his @GrassleyWorks campaign account, “When Iowans pull up to fill up, they’re facing 7-year high #gas prices under the Biden administration’s failing energy prices.” The post was shared from a Casey’s General Store with a photo of Grassley standing outside of a car looking at a gas pump.
About the time Grassley tweeted, several news outlets had reported that Memorial Day weekend gas prices were at a seven-year high. The Associated Press reported May 27 that the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.03 that week. Before then, the high for Memorial Day weekend prices was in 2014, when they averaged $3.65 a gallon.
But gas prices had been on an upward trend during the final year of President Donald Trump’s administration.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gas prices hit a four-year low in late April 2020 at an average $1.87 a gallon as travel plummeted at the onset of the global spread of COVID-19. Prices ticked up again in May 2020 during the summer travel season, with about eight months left of Trump’s presidency.
By the week ending May 31, 2021, the most recent data available before Grassley tweeted, prices climbed to an average of $3.12 a gallon. Nearly 49 percent of the increase in gas prices has taken place since Biden took office in January. (These prices are not adjusted for inflation.)
For context, regular gasoline prices reached a record-high on July 17, 2008, according to the AAA, at an average of $4.10 per gallon, when George W. Bush was U.S. president. The New York Times reported global oil demand, particularly from China and the Middle East, was the key driver behind the rising prices in the months leading up to the 2008 general election.
Grassley is correct that gas prices are at a seven-year high — but is he correct to pin the blame on Biden policies?
To support Grassley’s statement, his office pointed to inflation across virtually all business sectors and Biden administration moves to curb domestic energy production, ultimately causing prices to rise by restricting the oil supply.
Immediately after taking office, Biden announced a 60-day suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits for U.S. lands and waters, the AP reported. The moratorium did give some senior Department of Interior officials authority to OK new drilling action that otherwise would be suspended.
A federal judge in Louisiana on Tuesday blocked the order nationwide, ordering the resumption of plans for delayed lease sales for the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. But even had the moratorium not been struck down, its impact could have been blunted by the number of still-valid permits approved under the Trump administration. The AP found Interior officials approved almost 1,400 permits on federal lands, primarily in Wyoming and New Mexico, over a three-month period that included the election, allowing companies to continue drilling for years.
Biden also revoked approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, which would have delivered crude oil from Canada and North Dakota to the United States. The developer recently pulled the plug on the project following Biden’s move. But because the pipeline was not operational, it cannot have an impact on current gas prices, though it may have a long-term effect on crude oil supply.
Other policies that Goldman Sachs analysts suggested could increase crude oil prices included “a focus on fiscal spending, a probable lack of urgency in lifting sanctions on Iran,” the world’s seventh-highest oil producer, “and restrictions on the North American energy industry,” Bloomberg reported.
However, those analysts and other experts in a PolitiFact fact check on similar claims linking Biden policies to rising gas prices point to the global COVID-19 vaccine rollouts as the key reason oil markets have rallied.
Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, a website that tracks gas prices, told PolitiFact, “now that demand is up, and oil production is not, that has pushed oil prices up." Oil companies reduced crude oil production during the COVID-19 pandemic as demand fell with fewer people traveling. Now, the uptick in travel after a year of pandemic-related restrictions — combined with the typically higher level of travel in the summer months — is largely fueling the elevated gas prices.
Similarly, USA Today published a fact check June 10 assessing the validity of claims that Biden is to blame for current rising gas prices and found such claims to be false. USA Today also attributed the price increase to rising demand with more travel, coupled with lagging supply.
Although energy experts have suggested that Biden policies may conceivably have an impact on oil and gas prices in the long run, any policy’s impact on prices would not be discernible in present-day gas prices. Grassley is correct that gas prices reached a seven-year high, but the main driver for the increase is a return to normal as Americans receive vaccinations, fueling demand for travel — amplifying the usual boost the summer travel season gives to gas prices. We give Grassley a C.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.
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We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
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This Fact Checker was researched and written by Marissa Payne of The Gazette.