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Gingrich is wrong on both gun racks in Chevy Volts and US energy policy

During a campaign sweep through Georgia last weekend, Newt Gingrich had some interesting things to say about the ability of a Chevy Volt to carry a gun rack, and his fantasy of returning to $2.50 a gallon gasoline.


Last weekend Newt Gingrich decided to unload both barrels on the Chevy Volt claiming, among other things, that the Chevy Volt is ridiculous because "You can't put a gun rack in a Volt." Yesterday, John McDole, A Chevy Volt owner, posted a video on youtube proving that you can very well put a gun rack in a Volt. Score one for the masses?

The video demonstrates an obviously quickly designed gun rack made from PVC pipes and hooks, that fits neatly in the luggage area of a Chevy Volt. The finished gun rack holds three rifles and there's still room for hunting vests and ammunition, though it's unclear what you'll do with any wild game killed using those rifles. The gun rack shown in the video doesn't, by any stretch of imagination, have the fit and finish appropriate to an accessory one would buy for a Chevy Volt, it does demonstrate that a Volt can carry a gun rack, and that an accessory manufacturer could in theory spend the time to develop a Chevy Volt gun rack product.

This wouldn't be news if it were just a one-off quick stunt video, shot in an afternoon, and posted on the Internet. There is, however, a deeper issue as McDole pointed out in his video. Namely, the other, largely incorrect, comments Gingrich made over the weekend about oil policies, the price of oil, and green technology and green transportation incentives in an effort to attack the Obama Administration. The comments made by Gingrich and McDole demonstrate two very different views of energy policies in the U.S. Some, like Gingrich, are living in a fantasy of cheap oil and big trucks, while others like McDole recognize our future will be plagued by energy supply shortages and the urgent need to quickly stop using fossil fuels.

Gingrich's comments came during a campaign swing through his home state of Georgia, which holds its Presidential Primary on March 6.

During a campaign stop former Speaker Newt Gingrich mocked the green car lobby with "How DARE we go out and drive vehicles bigger than their bicycles!" He went on to say he doesn't have anything against people who want to drive electric cars like the Volt, calling it an interesting experimental car and repeating the oft-said talking point "The average family who buys it earns $170,000 per year," and several other digs against the Chevy Volt. All that led to him saying "here's my point, you can't put a gun rack in a Volt," a line which drew huge applause from the audience. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Gingrich campaigned on gun rights, religious freedom and bringing gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon, and quotes him saying “I think $2.50 a gallon gasoline and trucks big enough to carry a gun rack fits Georgia just about perfectly and I am happy to campaign here on that.”

In his video, McDole replied to Mr. Gingrich saying, "Recently Newt Gingrich decided to make a statement about the production of oil in the United States, that if he were President he would drill anywhere and everywhere he could in order to drop the price [of oil] to $2.50, which shows a 'slight' misunderstanding of how the global markets work. See, if you try to increase supply in the United States, the Saudi's and everyone else who produce oil will just reduce the supply and the price will still remain the same."

Both Gingrich and McDole are referring to the efforts in the Republican-led House of Representatives to slash transit and bicycling infrastructure spending in this years Transportation bill. That bill fits the general Republican "Drill baby Drill" mantra in which certain realities of the oil markets and national energy security are being collectively ignored. These are not only the "they'll just reduce the supply" argument from McDole, but also the very real issue of peak oil.

McDole's straight-forward argument is compatible to what top level experts in the field are saying. What will the other oil producing countries do if the U.S. increased its domestic fossil oil production? Would they keep their fossil oil production at the same level? Would they drop their fossil oil production to match the U.S. increase?

A keynote presentation by Peter Wells of Neftex Petroleum Consultants, Ltd at the ASPO 2008 conference (in Sacramento) suggested, like McDole's statement, that the oil producing countries are interested in keeping fossil oil prices relatively high. Wells is a top oil industry negotiator living in the Persian Gulf who routinely discusses oil production policies with Persian Gulf leaders. Wells noted that OPEC has a dilemma about investing in more production capacity. These countries want to get the highest price they can for the fossil oil they supply, and recognize if the price goes too high (too quickly) their customers will bolt to alternatives. Wells described the leadership in these countries as seeing their oil reserves as their national treasure, as a legacy to pass to their children, and that their goal is not to push fossil oil prices as low as possible, but to manage fossil oil supplies to keep prices high while not spooking the customers.

What Wells said at the APSO2008 conference could be restated as "if you try to increase supply in the United States, the Saudi's and everyone else who produce oil will just reduce the supply and the price will still remain the same."

It wasn't so long ago that "$2.50 a gallon gasoline" that Gingrich positions as cheap was thought to be expensive. Over the last several years fossil oil companies have ratcheted the price up and down. In 2008 it hit a peak (in the U.S.) of close to $5/gallon before the financial collapse caused a massive recession and a drastic reduction in oil demand. As Bryan Walsh noted today in Time's Ecocentric blog, when Obama entered office in Jan 2009 gas cost $1.81 a gallon. Today oil prices have risen, with Republican's are trying to make that price increase look bad on Obama. These same Republicans conveniently ignore the even higher gasoline prices during President Bush's term. Oil prices peaked just a few months before Obama entered office, leading 2008's Presidential candidates to come up with the "Drill Baby Drill" slogan. The truth is that recessions dampen economic activity, which dampens demand for oil, and thereby causing a price drop for oil. Hence, the deep recession beginning in late 2008 caused gasoline prices to fall rapidly, but the economic recovery (such as it is) since those dark days of 2008-9 caused an increase in gasoline demand and higher prices.

Walsh's blog posts also notes that domestic fossil oil production has increased during Obama's term, a fact that Obama repeats frequently during speeches. That increase is largely due to production of unconventional fossil oil in Montana and North Dakota. Despite increased domestic production, gasoline prices have not changed for the better, largely because U.S. domestic production is a drop in the bucket compared to global production.

The U.S. passed its peak of oil production in 1971. This converted the U.S. from a fossil oil superpower to a country dependent on others for their fossil oil. The U.S. will never ever again be a fossil oil super-power, and will always be dependent on others for fossil oil supplies, and domestic oil reserves are a drop in the bucket. These facts mean that a large chunk of the U.S. GDP is sent overseas to buy the fossil oil required to keep the U.S. vehicle fleet rolling.

One would think Republicans would be able to recognize these facts and applaud moves to increase U.S. stability by decreasing its dependence on foreign energy supplies. President George W. Bush certainly recognized this. His 2006 State of the Union Address included the famous "The U.S. is addicted to oil" statement, following which he pushed for Federal money to be spent on research in alternatives to fossil oil. The Bush Administration policies included support for electric vehicles, enacting the $7500 tax credit for electric car purchases, and some funding for electric vehicle manufacturers prior to Obama Administration.

Instead the current crop of Republicans are ignoring the obvious dangers that will come from continuing to depend on fossil oil, and are living in the fantasy of a return to cheap oil. Instead of wishing for $2.50 a gallon, shouldn't the U.S. be preparing for $10 per gallon?


Nicolas Zart    February 22, 2012 - 6:02PM

It's a wonder people still listen to these politicians who haven't solved anything yet and apparently are willing to say anything to ring in some votes. In this case, the track record isn't surprising when you hear things like that.