Seriously? California to investigate oil companies to see why their gas is so expensive

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

The Democrats’ efforts to blame high gas prices on Vladimir Putin have gone over like a rake handle to the face this year. That means that a new villain has to be found, as long as the finger isn’t being pointed at them. California is scrambling to address the public relations fiasco as quickly as possible this month. Taking a cue from Joe Biden, the state legislature will open an investigation into… the “greedy oil companies.” While it’s almost comical to watch this play out, it’s also almost understandable. Since they can’t take responsibility for the fallout caused by their own policies, they have to find somebody to blame. So why not invoke the specter of “Big Oil” to gin up the locals against anyone but themselves? (CBS News)

Gas prices in California are starting to creep down — but they still remain the highest in the nation, and state lawmakers want to know why.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, announced the formation of a non-partisan committee to investigate rising gas prices in California, to be chaired by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks. The committee’s first hearing is expected to happen by the end of the month.

The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline dropped 1.5 cents to $6.403 on Tuesday, the largest daily decrease since April 13. Gas prices are also ticking down across the nation, decreasing 1.3 cents to an average of $4.968.

Normally, we could write off this nonsense as yet another case of politicians attempting to meddle in a highly complex industry that they don’t really understand. But while some of that may be in play here yet again, we’re talking about California. The people who are scheduled to conduct this “investigation” are the same people that made California the state with literally the highest rate of gasoline taxes in the nation. And it’s not even close. What’s more, they were scheduled to raise the gas tax again last month before abandoning the plan when they realized that people would probably soon show up at their doors with pitchforks and torches.

A number of different factors influence gas prices, with the cost of oil being only one of them. Oil prices are determined by a complex formula of supply, demand, and what refiners are willing to bid for oil based on projected future demand levels. The distance that the refined fuel has to travel also impacts the cost dramatically, and California has become so unfriendly to any businesses even remotely related to the oil and gas industry that their gas tends to travel a long way before reaching the pump.

Blaming “Big Oil” has been a fool’s errand from the beginning. Ben Lieberman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute recently explained how the person in the White House who is trying to blame the oil companies caused this situation far more than the industry he is demonizing.

Candidate Joe Biden repeatedly promised to curtail domestic oil drilling for the sake of addressing climate change and started making good on that promise from day one. But now he accuses the industry of holding back on supplies and has launched a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the matter.

To be sure, if oil companies were the ones that had decided to halt new drilling on federal lands in Alaska (as well as the lower 48 and offshore) or refused to build the Keystone XL Pipeline and other needed infrastructure projects, the president might have a credible case of industry deliberately squeezing supplies in order to boost prices. But it is his own administration that did all these things.

None of this will matter in the end, of course. California’s elected officials will harrumph for a week or two and then declare that “greedy” oil executives are to blame. And if the public rejects that dodge as well, they’ll find a new target next month. Perhaps they could try blaming Saudi Arabia. Of course, that might be a bit tougher after Joe Biden goes to visit the Saudi Crown Prince to beg for help this summer.