High gas prices: Can anything be done? [Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.]
June 20–As it has in the past with other elected leaders, rising gas prices have been the talk of two of the area’s elected representatives in the past few weeks.
Regardless of what they say or do, however, what kind of impact can elected officials have on the price of fuel?
Last week, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon plans to nix existing regulations that require vehicle manufacturers to nearly double the fuel economy of passenger vehicles by 2025.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi is calling on U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney to sponsor the House version of a Senate bill that would ban the exportation of crude oil or refined petroleum products derived from federal land. Brindisi, who is challenging Tenney for her seat on Congress, believes the bill could lower gas prices by increasing domestic supply, he said during a campaign event Monday.
“I think lawmakers have an obligation to stand up and speak up against these kinds of issues,” said Brindisi, D-Utica.
The conversations come as the average price of gas in New York has increased about 57 cents per gallon in the past year, according to GasBuddy.com.
By and large, there is no simple way to bring it down, said Edward Walsh, regional manager of AAA Northeast.
The largest effect lawmakers have on gas prices is taxes. The federal gasoline tax, Welsh said, has remained flat at 18.4 cents since 1993. Gasoline taxes in New York, meanwhile, are the fifth highest in the nation as of April, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
Combined, state and federal taxes make up around 63 cents based on that same $2.80 gallon, Welsh said. The remainder of the expense fluctuates based on the market, with costs for oil mining, refining, transportation and retail.
“The bigger question is we’re part of a global market when it comes to oil,” he said. “As global supply increases and contracts, how our supply plays into that is part of a bigger puzzle.”
Welsh said he believes Congress should focus the conversation on energy policy.
“I think the federal government should adopt a national energy policy which combines increased fuel production, efficient use of traditional and alternative fuels and the elimination of lengthy administrative and legal roadblocks to the development of new sources of energy,” he said.
The Senate bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, was introduced in the Senate and has yet to be co-sponsored in Congress. Asked of the merits of the bill, Welsh said AAA is in favor of federal lawmakers promoting as much domestic production as environmentally suitable.
Seeing the legislation through the lens of supply and demand, Brindisi said the bill is a “common sense proposal.”
“If the congresswoman won’t stand up against a plan to prevent our cars from getting better gas mileage so we don’t have to be at these pumps as much,” Brindisi said, referencing Schumer’s push, “Perhaps she will consider legislation that increases the supply of gasoline when it is extracted from federal lands.”
It is not Brindisi’s first foray into gas prices. Since 2014, Brindisi has either voted in favor and/or co-sponsored Assembly bills seeking to modify the state’s zone pricing law that he believes allows retailers to adjust prices based on geographic location. The bills have either died or stalled in the Senate.
Responding to Brindisi’s statements, the Claudia Tenney for Congress campaign sees Brindisi’s news conference as a distraction from his silence on corruption issues involving certain state officials, including former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros and Joseph Percoco, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The campaign pointed to the state’s gasoline tax rate as well as Brindisi’s opposition to fracking and shale development. Brindisi said Monday he remains opposed to fracking.
According to the campaign, Tenney has supported increasing the nation’s domestic supply of oil, and reducing reliance on a foreign supply through the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge while opposing fracking moratoriums in New York. Opening up the refuge to oil drilling was included in the federal tax reform bill.
As for the Menendez bill, the campaign stated pointing to one bill to solve a complex issue is “disingenuous.”
“Anthony Brindisi complaining about high gas prices is as disingenuous as it gets,” said Raychel Renna, Tenney’s campaign manager. “Gov. Cuomo and Anthony Brindisi’s extreme anti-energy agenda has given our district higher gas and electricity prices, and some of the most economically depressed areas in the country.”
Contact reporter Greg Mason at 315-792-5074 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Mason).
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