We all are witnessing the increase of gas prices at the pump right now.
According to AAA on Thursday, the average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline in Vermont was $2.92.
Fuel prices have been increasing as Colonial, owner of the 5,500-mile pipeline, works to return its system to full service. The company halted operation after cybercriminals locked its computer systems and demanded an undisclosed ransom. The pipeline delivers about 45% of the East Coast’s gas
The scare led to a run on gasoline in the Southeast, where fears about gasoline shortages led to panic buying. The company said it would take several days for operations to return to normal. Fortunately, that progress has been happening since mid-week, and relief is on the way, according to published sources.
But the attack shows a vulnerability, and has the tank of consumer anger at full.
The Biden administration swung aggressively into action after the incident — understanding that the situation posed a possible series of political and economic risks.
Those seem to be playing out.
The pipeline shutdown was an all-hands-on-deck situation for President Biden's administration, and critics have suggested it has been less than smooth. The administration devoted the first half of the week to showcasing all the steps it was taking to get gas back to service stations in affected areas. The shutdown caused a supply crunch and spiking prices — all of which the administration was preparing to address.
President Biden himself was delivering remarks this week about the pipeline incident, more evidence of his administration’s awareness of the political perils associated with the shutdown and of White House efforts to turn the situation into a new reason to argue for the relief package.
In response, the president offered an executive order to improve cybersecurity. Biden's team seized on the shutdown as an argument for approving the president's $2.3 trillion infrastructure funding.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the cyberattack was a reminder that infrastructure is a national security issue and investments for greater resilience are needed.
“This is not an extra, this is not a luxury, this is not an option,” Buttigieg said. “This has to be core to how we secure critical infrastructure.”
According to published reports, The Department of Homeland Security issued a temporary waiver of a federal law overseeing maritime commerce to an individual company, not identified by the government, to allow the transportation of additional gas and jet fuel between Gulf Coast and East Coast ports.
And the Transportation Department was surveying how many vessels could carry fossil fuels to the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Seaboard to provide gasoline. Waivers were issued to expand the hours that fuel can be transported by roadways. The Environmental Protection Agency issued waivers on gas blends and other regulations to ease any supply challenges.
Republican lawmakers have been quick to criticize the administration for previously canceling plans to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Biden had canceled its permit over risks of spills and worries that climate change would worsen by burning the oil sands crude that would have flowed through the pipeline.
This is nothing new, of course. Higher energy prices often have political fallout, complicating reelection campaigns for incumbents outside oil-producing regions. The 1979 fuel shortage crushed Jimmy Carter's presidential reelection efforts and helped usher in the Reagan era.
Research published last year by the World Bank looked at 207 elections across 50 democracies and found an oil price spike a year before the election “systematically lowers the odds of incumbents being reelected.” The findings applied to both conservatives and liberals, showing a degree of pragmatism by voters.
It would seem the best way for Biden to respond was probably to show that he understands how rising gas prices can hurt family budgets and to move quickly to help fix the pipeline problem.
He needs to show empathy and recognize the position that the average American is in right now.
Otherwise, he might end up with a lot of Americans fuming into the summer months.