The spike in gasoline prices earlier this year had Republicans crying foul, blaming President Joe Biden and Democrats for the increase — even though they began rising in late 2020 under President Donald Trump.
That included a March 18 claim from U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., which we rated Mostly False: Gas prices are high “due to the Democrats’ war on fossil fuels.”
Johnson, of course, is locked in a tight reelection battle.
And, even though gas prices have been falling, he offered this claim in an Aug. 23 tweet:
“Democrats’ radical green energy policies caused record gas prices. They want to fundamentally transform our economy.”
There is little doubt about the second part of the claim. Democrats say they want to help the nation transition to a greener, more energy-efficient economy — reducing greenhouse admissions and combating climate change.
But let’s look at the first part, a new twist on Johnson’s earlier claim. We do this from time to time, when a politician changes his rhetoric, and we want to see whether the new language is more accurate.
So, have the Democrats and their energy policies “caused record gas prices”?
What caused record gas prices?
When asked to support the statement, Johnson’s spokeswoman Alexa Henning pointed us to a range of things, including all of the material sent for that earlier fact check, the one rated Mostly False.
So let’s start there.
As we noted in the earlier item:
Gasoline prices have been rising since the initial wave of the coronavirus hit the United States in early 2020. According to a March 9 piece from PolitiFact National, gas prices were the lowest in May 2020 at $1.87 per gallon, but have since increased.
In January 2021, when Biden was inaugurated, gas prices were already at $2.33 per gallon, ahead of any policies by the new administration. As of March 2022, prices were around $4 a gallon, on average, according to PolitiFact.
Johnson and others have cited Biden’s canceling of the Keystone XL pipeline expansion, but experts say that would have had a minuscule impact on gas prices. If the new pipeline were online, it would add only about half-million barrels of oil production per day to the 95 million currently produced.
But the pipeline wasn’t even projected to be online until the first quarter of 2023 — many months from now. So, that’s more than a stretch.
The other points, such as suspension of drilling and mining on Bureau of Land Management property and Biden signing an executive order barring federal funding from being used to subsidize fossil fuels were also cited as the reason for the hike in prices, also fell short.
Instead, experts pointed to factors such as the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted world markets and, more recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions. In short, they said, gasoline prices are part of a global market, so U.S. policy changes could contribute to price shifts, but are not solely responsible for them.
Gasoline prices have risen around the world, not just in the United States, undermining the claim that the increases are solely because of Biden and Democratic policies.
The main thing that has changed on this front since Johnson’s original claim, aside from prices being on the downswing, is the passage of two environment-related pieces of legislation.
The first is the CHIPS Act, passed July 27, which would, according to the White House, make investments to restore and advance U.S. leadership in the research, development and manufacturing of semiconductors.
A portion of the measure includes directing about $67 billion — a quarter of its total $280 billion funding — over the next five years toward clean energy initiatives.
“That will be used to fund scientific research necessary to fight climate change, including nanotechnology, clean energy, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, as well as disaster-resilience research. It will also accelerate the growth of zero-carbon technology and establish a new federal office to organize clean-energy innovation,” according to earth.org.
The second measure is the Inflation Reduction Act, passed Aug. 16, a wide-ranging measure that had a huge climate change component. That includes a major focus on investments in clean energy technologies, natural carbon reduction practices, and energy-efficient upgrades to businesses and homes, along with heavy investments in technologies to produce and use oil, gas, and coal in the cleanest way possible.
The problem: Those two measures were passed within the last month or so, and in that period, gasoline prices have fallen.
In any case, Johnson’s staff said the senator was not referring to them in his claim.
So, that leaves us essentially where we were the last time we looked at this matter.
What experts say about the world market
Hugh Daigle, a professor in the University of Texas, Austin’s Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, said looking back over the past two years or so, much of the movement in domestic gasoline prices has been driven by domestic politics, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
“The most recent spike in prices over the summer was due to a combination of increased demand as the U.S. moved into a summer of travel with greatly reduced pandemic-related concerns and reduced supply due to issues with refinery capacity, all superimposed on a background of high oil and gas prices brought about by the war in Ukraine,” Daigle told PolitiFact Wisconsin in an email.
Ericka Perryman, director of issue communications for American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, pointed out that gasoline, like the crude oil it’s made from, “is a global commodity priced by the market according to supply and demand, both present and projected.”
Perryman also said policies can affect gasoline prices.
“Crude oil is always the top driver of prices at the pump, today accounting for close to 55% of what consumers pay for gasoline. Policy also has an impact. In each of the four categories reflected in prices at the pump — the cost of crude oil, the cost of refining, distribution and marketing costs, and federal and state taxes — policy does make a difference.”
So, as we noted previously, policy can play a role in gas prices — but it hardly is the only driver, or the sole one as Johnson suggests.
Johnson claimed “Democrats’ radical green energy policies caused record gas prices.”
Experts say things such as halting subsidies for oil companies, ending fossil fuel company drilling on public lands and ending the Keystone XL pipeline may have had a small impact on gasoline prices, but the coronavirus pandemic on the supply and demand for oil, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions had a much bigger impact.
What’s more, prices are dropping. Would that mean Democrats can argue that the new policies have alone caused the decrease? That would be a stretch as well.
For a statement that contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, our rating is Mostly False.