Late reversal on gas prices

Late reversal on gas prices

April 2nd, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

It took well over three years, but President Barack Obama's energy secretary at last has reversed his infamous remark about wanting U.S. gas prices to rise to match the sky-high prices in Europe.

Speaking back in 2008, just months before he became energy secretary, Steven Chu said that "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe."

He essentially reiterated that position just a few weeks ago. Asked if his goal was to reduce the price Americans are paying for gasoline, the energy secretary said, "No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy."

But that out-of-touch view on expensive gasoline -- which is making it difficult for many American families to make ends meet -- has touched a nerve with the public. And now the energy secretary is changing his tune.

A few days ago, Mr. Chu was testifying at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked him, "So are you saying you no longer share the view that we need to figure out how to boost gasoline prices in America?"

Mr. Chu's response: "I no longer share that view."

That is an overdue about-face. But Mr. Chu is scarcely the only Obama administration official who has expressed the bizarre view that high energy prices are somehow good for America.

Then-Sen. Obama himself said in a videotaped interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008: "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Coal-powered plants, you know, natural gas, you name it, whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers."

And in another 2008 interview, Mr. Obama was asked about high gas prices.

"Could these high prices help us?" asked CNBC's John Harwood.

Mr. Obama said, "I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment" so the rise in prices wouldn't hit families so hard.

That is a far cry from saying flat out that he believed high gas prices were harmful. Rather, he just wanted rising prices to come about a little more slowly.

Only recently -- when those high prices have begun harming his job approval rating -- has the president issued a clearer acknowledgment that costly gasoline hurts ordinary Americans.

So, does that represent a true change of heart, or just a political calculation that his administration's previously stated support for higher gas prices is damaging his re-election prospects?

Only Mr. Obama can answer that with certainty, but the timing of his reversal is, at a minimum, extremely suspect.