Pollution increase would be ‘negligible’ from consumer-friendly move on gasoline prices

Editor’s note: Soon after this was posted Sunday morning, Jerry Brown took our advice — and even used the term “negligible” to describe the effects on the environment. Coincidence? Probably. But still!

Oct. 7, 2012

By Chris Reed

The shocking run-up in gasoline prices endured by California drivers in recent days has led to calls from the California Independent Oil Marketers Association and state Sen. Juan Vargas, D-Chula Vista, that Gov. Jerry Brown allow earlier introduction of winter-blend gasoline to increase supply and bring down the cost of gas.

Because this would require both action by the state, which has had uniquely stringent rules on gasoline composition since 1996, and the federal government, don’t expect relief at the pump anytime soon. The high gasoline prices could last until winter-blend gasoline is allowed after Oct. 31.

But the painful price spike at least has one benefit: illustrating the costliness and vapidity of excessive regulation.

There are sensible reasons for adjusting the composition of gasoline depending on the season. During the summer, especially in hotter areas, the formula used minimizes smog and the creation of ozone, which can damage the lungs.

But we are in the third week of fall, and the summer heat has receded. Why couldn’t Gov. Brown and the federal EPA relax the rules to save us all from $5 gas? At the least, why couldn’t winter-blend gasoline be allowed in colder parts of California, which would still have the effect of introducing new supply and reducing the cost of gasoline for everyone in the state?

I put these questions to some experts with this email:

I have read up on winter-blend and why it is phased in earlier in colder states.
But is there any reason why California couldn’t allow it before the Oct. 31 deadline in colder parts of the state without negative environmental effects?
Or is there some other reason for treating California as one unit? 

I read the 2006 study about the insanity of all the different fuel standards around the country. Gasoline from Raleigh, N.C., couldn’t be used in Norfolk, Va., during the summer, etc.  

I wonder if this problem is exacerbated by these varying standards.

Here is the response I got from Bernard “Bud” Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas:

“There’s no question that fuel blend switching is partly responsible for the current shortages and price spikes for gasoline in California.  I agree with you that different fuel standards around the country, along with requirements for seasonal changes in gasoline chemistry, create distribution problems for refineries and occasional headaches for consumers.  The solution is to give federal and state regulatory agencies the ability to temporarily override mandated standards when dealing with production and distribution bottlenecks, as is currently the case in California.  Any “negative” environmental impacts would be negligible.”

And here’s the response I got from a former Californian, Ryan Kellogg, an associate professor of economics at the University of Michigan whom I sought out at the direction of Severin Borenstein, the co-director of the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

“Climate obviously varies a lot across California, so from an environmental benefits perspective it probably makes sense to do things like switch from the summer to winter blend earlier in, say, Mono County than in LA County. But, as you say, doing this creates costs in terms of having different types of fuel in different parts of the state. There are real refining and distribution costs associated with doing something like this, along with the possibility of increased market power that comes with increased market segmentation.”

So one expert says of course we could shift earlier to winter-blend gasoline with “negligible” effects. The other expert says it “probably makes sense” to let colder parts of the state use winter-blend gasoline earlier than in hotter parts of the state.

But regulations, all-important regulations, life-defining regulations — well, they are simply too important to set aside. Even if they are daffy. The average temperature in Riverside on Oct. 7 may be 20 degrees higher than much of California, but we can’t factor common sense into our policies now, can we?

Otherwise, we’ll be accused of torturing kids. On Saturday, Borenstein told the San Francisco Chronicle about the backlash he faced in 1999 after suggesting the state be more flexible about its gasoline rules:

“One state senator accused me of trying to ruin the lungs of the children of Los Angeles.” 

Once again I’m struck by the fact that agnosticism and atheism are far more prevalent among the secular left than any other facet of our society, and it is the secular left that is home to an environmentalism so rigid and so dismissive of reason that it might as well be a religion.

Remember when Bill Lockyer and Darrell Steinberg suggested that cities and counties whose residents opposed the endless tax-hike proposals coming out of Sacramento should receive less services? OK — but only if the Bay Area, west L.A. and Malibu bear the entire cost of California’s holier-than-thou-but-not-exactly-smart environmental policies.

But it doesn’t work that way, so we all have to spend $75 for a tank of gas.


Write a comment
  1. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 7 October, 2012, 13:21

    Watch out-Teddy will meltdown if you tel him the gas blending is a joke……

    IMO when there is a refinery failure, as we have today the blends requirement should be put on hold an outside gas sources with regular blends uses.

    Reply this comment
  2. Bob
    Bob 7 October, 2012, 18:33

    I’ve set it before and I will say it again and again…

    It is long past time this state be split up. Darrell Stinkbug, Old Buzzard Brown and Fatty Perez DON’T represent me.

    Reply this comment
  3. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 7 October, 2012, 22:30

    Why don’t you both


    Reply this comment
  4. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 7 October, 2012, 22:32

    Don’t touch CA! It is my state too.

    Reply this comment
  5. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 October, 2012, 08:53

    We should harned the hot air and gases coming out of Teddy and his sock puppets, every citizen of the state would become a millionaire 😉

    Reply this comment
  6. C-Lion
    C-Lion 8 October, 2012, 12:42

    All the governor has to do is waive the requirement that CA can use only its “special blend” gasolines, and allow the import and use of “special blends” from other states.
    But that would be too simple, easy and effective.
    I refuse to believe that the oil companies and refiners are “victims” of government in this.
    Ask yourself – why would the refiners schedule maintenance at the same time that they are converting to the winter blends. Shouldn’t maintenance be done during low-volume times, like late January?
    And, doesn’t it seem like we’ve seen this “perfect storm” before, where accidents and maintenance seem to all happen at the same time? The idea that an oil refinery would lose power is simply not plausible, especially after the blackouts ten years ago.

    Reply this comment

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