Here in Northern California we often look jealously at fuel prices in the rest of the nation. The rest of the nation looks at ours slack-jawed at the enormity of them. Even in a “normal” market, the Bay Area and Los Angeles usually trade places with the highest costs in all 50 states. When they don’t lead, they are almost always in the Top 3.
This week, the “normal” market disappeared. Monday a gallon of regular cost $3.89 at the local Fossil Fuelery and Fatty Snack Emporium. This morning I filled up for $4.09. It is surely higher in Oakland and The City.
A massive fire at a 110-year old Chevron refinery in the Bay Area earlier this week caused the spike. A 20-drop per hour leak turned into a gush while workers tried to figure out how to fix it while keeping the production line running. The fire sent thousands of nearby residents inside with orders to duct tape around windows and not come out to play until they got the all clear. The air was befouled by thick, black, acrid smoke blown inland and residents far beyond the immediate area rushed off to hospitals with breathing and skin irritations. Air quality authorities still don’t know exactly what was in the smoke.
Buying Mitt Romney’s LunchThe toasted refinery is in knot of refineries that catch fire or have other accidents with disturbing regularity. The area’s reverse 911 system that warns residents to cower inside gets a thorough workout. Each string of accident investigations – 5 so far in the latest case – show a continuous pattern of incompetence in running these massive chemical crap factories. Fines, if any, are generally low and for global outfits like Chevron, almost enough to buy Mitt Romney’s lunch.
The Chevron refinery produces about 15% of California’s gas – the burning kind, not the gassy assy kind. So why, one might ask, don’t they just bring some relatively cheap and currently abundant fuel from somewhere else to keep things going?
Because they can’t.
California has a closed gasoline market. Golden Staters use a specially-formulated gasoline, unavailable elsewhere, to cut down on the number of Spare the Air days – days, like today, when pollution and temperatures are high and the state strongly encourages public transportation or telecommuting, significantly reduced air conditioning and lighting, and sharply curtailed barbecuing, grass mowing, dish washing, or any other fuel burning activities.
Without the special gas, California’s urban areas would drown in a Beijing-like primordial soup of stale air. Worse, air in California’s sparsely populated Central Valley would be unbreathable on all but the clearest days. Luckily for urbanites – but not so much for Central Valleyans – dozens of micro-climates and the topography generally push the pollution out to Stockton, Fresno, and other more rural towns leaving the Bay Area with some of the cleanest big city air in the nation.
Chevron originally estimated $4.00 per gallon gas by month’s end. Not surprisingly, given Chevron’s math skills and that we are already 10-cents ahead of the curve; it looks more like $4.75. Shocking for some, not all that unusual for Californians. It is the price we pay to defeat global warming, but most of all; it is the price we pay to breathe (now if we could only figure out how to manufacture water so we could drink, we’d be golden).
The Drill Baby Drill CrowdThe drill baby drill crowd and global warming deniers who claim the globe is merely comfy would do away with the gas and safety regulations and offer oil companies bigger incentives and tax breaks than the entire German economy. They would giddily dismantle anything allowing breathing without a respirator. Of course, this isn’t surprising for a group of knot heads who believe Obamacare and socialists are causing global comforting, aided by birth certificates burning by the bale. BTW, the Feds already sued California because its gas and air pollution standards are too stringent.
Yes, $4.09 is eye-popping, but not so much as the rest of the world pays. Yes, high gas prices, especially in America’s primary vegetable and fruit-growing areas will make food more expensive. The pricey gas will drive up the cost of everything from PCs to Heinz ketchup to cheese (Wisconsin isn’t America’s premier dairy land anymore) – but it will still be worth – and not just because Californians need air to live.
Absent some seriousness work on our energy and environmental pickles, worse problems than $4.09 per gallon gas are ahead. Without some rationality and seriousness, California and much of America will be burning cow dung as fuel and lounging on their Wichita beachfront property.
America has already rounded Third World and is headed for broken home. It is time to get serious about the serious and step up to pay their $4.09 – or more.
It’s a cheap price for the air we all breathe.
Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks! More than politics, more than pop culture & humor