Political Gas

Utah Governor, Jon Huntsman Jr, and his head of the Commerce Dept were reported to have stated that their efforts have resulted in lowering gasoline prices in Utah.

I heard this on the local evening news last night. When I heard it all I could do was laugh and feel a little more annoyed at how shamefully both have acted.

About three weeks ago, the local drive by media began having a melt down that Utah’s gas prices were among the highest in the nation. Each newscast’s report conveniently forgot that we’ve had some of the nation’s lowest prices for months.

Within a couple of days, Gov. Huntsman and Francine Giani quickly jumped into the fray accusing petroleum retailers and refiners of price gouging and stated there would be an investigation. I guess the political red meat was too enticing for them to resist and they couldn’t wait to get the retailers etc side of the story.

So much for supply and demand. Nobody ever noted that local refineries had been running at full capacity for months and delayed routine maintenance to keep up with the demand. Finally, at the end of the summer driving (high demand) season, three of the five refineries briefly shut down to conduct the very overdue maintenance. Prices are not going to fall very much when something like this occurs, for obvious reasons.

The media did interview some of the petroleum folks who noted the recent supply setback. John Hill, (director of the Utah Petroleum Marketers and Retailers Association), assured us that “[Refineries are] catching back up now, though, so we should see prices starting to fall…” in a Sept 13th Salt Lake Tribune article. About a week later the Tribune ran another article about the prices with a final admission by a consumer that “the whole issue may be a moot point in a couple of weeks. [Fugazzi] and his wife on Tuesday noticed a few stations in the Salt Lake Valley were advertising $2.72 per gallon, 17 cents less than $2.89 he paid a week ago.”

Clearly, from the onset the Petroleum folks as well as consumers with the vaguest idea about supply and demand and a small penchant for staying informed asserted that prices would drop. They have, as predicted prior to the Executive branch’s attention or ‘involvement’. Of course, that can’t stop a semi-savvy politician like Huntsman and Bureaucrat like Giani (she’s only received one financial statement for the investigation so far) from claiming victory.

Finally, on Sunday the Tribune came out with a somewhat level headed article about why the prices didn’t drop as fast as the rest of the nation. While they still left out the point about the maintenance shutdown, it is a definite improvement. The article is also what should have been brought up from the beginning rather than the knee-jerk grandstanding we were given.

As a local radio station newsman put it (I’m paraphrasing here): ‘The governor has called for an investigation on the recent high gas prices in Utah – Utah has some of the highest combined taxes and fees in the nation – no investigation there, however.’

Apparently, tackling the longer track record of high taxes and fees doesn’t get you the political brownie points that attacking the private sector (regardless of the facts) does.


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