Dan Walters

Dan Walters
Observations on California and its politics
By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
04/01/2015 7:21 AM

There’s something about the ebb and flow of gasoline prices that makes ordinarily rational people go a little nuts.

And there’s something about politicians that entices them to demagogue the public’s irrational gas price obsession.

California’s gas prices have been particularly volatile in recent months, dropping from about $4 a gallon last year to about $2 in some areas as global oil prices plummeted, then rising to more than $3 in February and early March before beginning another downward drift.

Last month, a state Senate committee hearing was convened on the issue, and the two Democratic senators who ran it focused solely on the upward spike earlier in the year, ignoring downward trends before and after.

The two, Ben Hueso and Jim Beall, engaged in a little demagoguery, pointing the finger at those nasty old oil companies that are, they implied, colluding on prices.

They took their lead from a one-sided staff report and entertained Jamie Court, head of Consumer Watchdog, who railed, without much factual backup, against the oil industry.

This week, Court joined with Tom Steyer, the billionaire gadfly on energy matters who may run for governor in 2018, in a letter commending the Senate for the hearing, calling for a deeper investigation and demanding that consumers receive “a fair shake.”

Gas prices are higher in California than almost anywhere else in the nation, albeit markedly lower than they were a year ago. And there are reasons for that disparity.

California’s fuel taxes are among the highest in the nation, the state Air Resources Board just imposed cap-and-trade fees on fuel, and the state requires unique, smog-fighting formulations.

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