Gasoline prices are again rising at the pump, up another 10 percent since this time last year. The "drill, baby, drill" people (many in the Republican Party), followed closely by the "all-of-the-above" people (many in the Democratic Party), are doubtless very ready to begin their familiar chants.
If the past is prologue, American voters will continue to support risky oil exploration policies because they have been told it is the way to deliver lower gasoline prices. And without leadership from Washington, we will again witness a failure of policy-making so profound that it can shake one's faith in democracy.
What commodity do Americans pay the most attention to? Gasoline. Every person in this country with a driver's license knows today's price of gas within a tenth of a cent. It is a commodity whose price can drive control of our Congress or even the White House.
Remember candidate Gingrich standing behind a podium with a drawing of a gas pump on it and promising to deliver $2.50-per-gallon gasoline? Remember convention delegates chanting "drill, baby, drill?" Remember President Obama responding to debate questions about the price of gasoline with a defense of his "all-of-the-above" energy development policy?
Into this arena comes a new, definitively non-political face, the nominee for the cabinet post with responsibility for setting many of the rules for domestic oil drilling. Sally Jewell, now the CEO of the sporting goods company REI, once a commercial banker and engineer for Mobil Oil, has been asked by the President to serve as Secretary of the Interior. Since she has not held political office, it is hard to tell what her position might be on an issue like offshore drilling.
So the question we have for her is whether she will have the integrity to be honest with Americans about how gasoline prices are set at the pump. Will she level with the American people that this price is not set by the domestic supply and demand of oil? Will she consider that as soon as oil is found in America, it is instantly a global commodity, sold on the global market, and any Americans that buy it pay the world price? Will she point out that Canadians, who have so much oil that they are net exporters and are famously proposing to build a pipeline across America to handle all their oil exports, pay the same price at the pump as Americans do, excluding taxes?
This lesson is essential to our future. Until Americans understand how gas prices are set, they will be fooled into taking absurd risks with their beaches and fisheries (think Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico) because they think it will produce cheaper gasoline.
It is one thing to decide to support ocean oil drilling because it reduces the trade deficit, which is true. It is entirely another thing to support it because it lowers gasoline prices. The second is what really matters to voters. Unfortunately, they are making policy based on a delusion.
Will Secretary Sally Jewell tell Americans the truth?
Will she explain to people that the Administration and Congress simply cannot, in a globally connected world like ours, control the price of gasoline in America?
Those are the key questions we have for the nominee.
At Oceana, we oppose ocean oil drilling because we do not think the risk to our fisheries and our beaches, including the impacts of ocean acidification, are worth the benefit. If confirmed, we hope Secretary Sally Jewell will stop ocean oil drilling. If she does not do that, she should at least teach Americans that it will not deliver them cheap gasoline. Such straight talk is long overdue. We hope this business leader and former oil engineer has the courage to deliver it.