High costs curve addiction

by Leonardo Castaneda

Leonardo Castaneda, Opinion Editor

Do you hear it? Do you hear the bicyclists laughing as you stand there pumping gas, paying close to $5 per gallon? It would be cheaper to fuel cars with Starbucks caramel frappuccinos.

The reason for the sudden spike in gas prices isn’t clear-cut, but a lot of plausible explanations have been offered. For now, it seems to be a combination of trouble in California refineries and potential price gauging from gas companies. Because California requires a higher- quality gas blend than other states, it is dependent on a small number of refineries and gas companies. The high standards led to improved air quality in the state, but also exposed it to higher volatility in prices.

Almost immediately, Gov. Jerry Brown demanded the early sale of a cheaper but more polluting gasoline blend usually banned until the end of October. This should decrease the price of gasoline, but anyone who’s had a car during the last few years knows gas prices rise like rockets and drop like feathers.

In the meantime, California’s economy will keep running, rioting mobs won’t burn down Sacramento and starving children won’t wander in an apocalyptic wasteland (except maybe in San Bernardino). This matters because it highlights a key fact about California politics and economy putting it far ahead of other states. Slowly but surely, pro-environmental policies raised gas prices higher than the national average while encouraging investment in green technology companies. California is on its way to a future independent of fossil fuels, and higher gas prices will only serve to reinforce it.

Take for example the Silicon Valley-based car company Tesla Motors. During the recent presidential debate, Republican candidate Mitt Romney called Tesla Motors a “loser” company because it received a loan from the federal government. Yet Tesla is making huge strides toward an affordable electric vehicle. Higher gas prices make electric vehicles more attractive to consumers, further reducing dependence on oil.

In the short run, Brown is doing the right thing by trying to lower gas prices as the state continues to recover from a deep recession. But, on a long-term scale, the state must commit to taxes on gasoline and investment in public transport and green technology. It isn’t the most popular policy, but it furthers California’s move toward a greener future.

Sooner or later, and most likely sooner than we anticipate, high gas prices will become a reality for the whole nation. It’s an inevitable trend no amount of offshore drilling and fracking can prevent, but only delay. And when everyone is facing $6 gas prices at the pump, California will be ready. Because it’s reducing its dependence on gasoline, California will be less exposed to the inevitable future gas-price fluctuations and it’ll be poised to capitalize on the demand for green technology.

Living in California isn’t cheap. Raising gas prices on an already taxed population might seem like a bad idea. Butifwedoitnowandeaseoutof our addiction to gas, we won’t suffer while high gas prices strangle the rest of the country.