An oil tanker ship docked at BP's Cherry Point refinery
An oil tanker ship docked at BP's Cherry Point refinery, pictured August 8th, 1974 (Photo: Dave MacKenzie, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Local Repub­li­cans and their allies work­ing at right wing think tanks have been on a tear these past few weeks about high gas prices, com­plain­ing about how Wash­ing­ton now has the high­est prices in the coun­try and try­ing to hang the blame for those increas­es on the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act and Demo­c­ra­t­ic elect­ed offi­cials, par­tic­u­lar­ly out­go­ing Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee, who isn’t seek­ing anoth­er term.

For exam­ple, the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus’ Twit­ter account — which is oper­at­ed as if it were the online bull­horn of a hyper­ac­tive polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee rather than the online pres­ence of a leg­isla­tive cau­cus — keeps pro­gram­mat­i­cal­ly post­ing tweets like this, often laden with stock photos:

Right wing oper­a­tives and intel­lec­tu­als have pitched or glad­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in sto­ries that seek to ascer­tain what’s caus­ing gas prices to go up, which have in turn inspired opin­ion pieces, like this Dan­ny West­neat col­umn from yes­ter­day.

Buried or even left unsaid in much of the cov­er­age is the truth of the mat­ter: Gas prices in Wash­ing­ton State have increased because obscene­ly prof­itable oil com­pa­nies have decid­ed to charge us more. Which is some­thing they were already doing even before the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act was implemented.

What you pay at the gas pump is a prod­uct of many fac­tors: the glob­al trad­ing price of crude oil, mar­ket con­di­tions, pro­duc­tion capac­i­ty, trans­port costs, sub­si­dies, tax­es, oth­er poli­cies, and of course the oil industry’s own price manip­u­la­tions to max­i­mize prof­its,” Cli­mate Solu­tions explained last week.

“In a nut­shell, the more you pay at the pump, the more prof­it the oil indus­try makes. But there’s a lot more than that at stake for oil companies.”

When it comes to sell­ing gas, the Pacif­ic North­west is the Unit­ed States oil industry’s cash cow. In Decem­ber 2022, oil retail­ers made 85.6 cents in prof­its for every gal­lon of gas sold in Wash­ing­ton. That made Wash­ing­ton the third-most prof­itable state in the coun­try for gas sales. In Ore­gon dur­ing the same peri­od, 95.3 cents per gal­lon was pure prof­it for the oil indus­try. That put the Beaver State in 2nd place for the indus­try’s most prof­itable state for gas sales.”

Chart showing retail gasoline profit margins in different American states
Chart show­ing retail gaso­line prof­it mar­gins in dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can states

With so much prof­it on the line, it’s no won­der the oil indus­try has come out swing­ing against cli­mate pro­tec­tion in Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton. The fos­sil fuel indus­try doesn’t care whether your air is breath­able in fifty years, they just want your mon­ey now. It’s true that efforts to reduce pol­lu­tion have com­pli­ance costs. How­ev­er, even if we assume that the oil indus­try pass­es 100% of those costs on to con­sumers, that’s still far less than the prof­its they’re rak­ing in.”

What effec­tive cli­mate poli­cies do is expand access to clean­er, more afford­able ways to get around — things that threat­en the oil industry’s near-monop­oly, which makes it hard­er for them to con­tin­ue bring­ing in extreme profits.”

“Jack up gas prices, rake in huge prof­its, then blame envi­ron­men­tal poli­cies and ignore the monop­o­lis­tic forces at play. That’s the oil indus­try playbook.”

It’s also a play­book that local Repub­li­cans feel offers them polit­i­cal oppor­tu­ni­ties. They’re out of pow­er in Wash­ing­ton State, and while they’ve con­tin­ued to lose big for sev­er­al con­sec­u­tive cycles, there’s always anoth­er elec­tion over the horizon.

And so they play the blame game.

Not only is it fun for Repub­li­cans to attack Democ­rats over high gas prices, it gives them a chance to suck up to some of their key fun­ders. Their friends in the oil indus­try just love the tweets you see above, because com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paigns like this help obscure who’s real­ly respon­si­ble for the price increases.

You won’t find any tweets from local Repub­li­cans or right wing think tanks like the Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter crit­i­ciz­ing big oil com­pa­nies over high gas prices. Not a one. You will see plen­ty of calls to repeal the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act, though.

Repub­li­cans seem to be cal­cu­lat­ing that once Wash­ing­to­ni­ans are frus­trat­ed enough with high gas prices, pub­lic sup­port for poli­cies like the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act will evap­o­rate. They seem con­vinced in the poten­tial for high gas prices to be an amaz­ing win­ning wedge issue that will help them politically.

How­ev­er, our research sug­gests they are wrong.

About a year ago, when Repub­li­cans were try­ing to exploit high­er gas prices as an issue to dri­ve their desired “red wave” in the midterms, we decid­ed to ask a sam­ple of like­ly 2022 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers whether they sup­port­ed cli­mate poli­cies — even if it meant hav­ing to pay more for gaso­line and home heat­ing fuel (which we tacked on for good mea­sure). We found that a firm major­i­ty said yes.

Take a look:

QUESTION: Do you strong­ly sup­port, some­what sup­port, some­what oppose, or strong­ly oppose the adop­tion of laws in Wash­ing­ton State that aggres­sive­ly respond to the threat of cli­mate dam­age, such as restric­tions on air and water pol­lu­tion, even if that means pay­ing more for gaso­line and home heat­ing fuel?


  • Sup­port: 55% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 42%
    • Some­what sup­port: 13%
  • Oppose: 39%
    • Some­what oppose: 12%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 27%
  • Not sure: 6%

This data is from a sur­vey of 1,039 like­ly 2022 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers that field­ed Wednes­day, June 1st through Thurs­day, June 2nd, 2022.

Again, that’s June of 2022 — not this month.

It uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines (50%) and text mes­sage answers from cell phone only respon­dents (50%).

The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.0% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

More infor­ma­tion about the survey’s method­ol­o­gy is avail­able here.

As explained above, cli­mate poli­cies are not what’s caus­ing high­er gas prices.

But even if many Wash­ing­to­ni­ans buy into the right wing mis­in­for­ma­tion that is cir­cu­lat­ing, that’s not going to cause pub­lic opin­ion to turn against cli­mate action poli­cies. In par­tic­u­lar, sub­ur­ban vot­ers aren’t going to start vot­ing for Repub­li­cans in 2024 because they have buy­er’s remorse about Democ­rats pass­ing cli­mate action laws. Sor­ry, Repub­li­cans — this cam­paign won’t yield polit­i­cal gold for you.

We’ve been ask­ing vot­ers whether they sup­port invest­ing in com­bat­ing cli­mate dam­age for almost ten years, and we have con­sis­tent­ly found sup­port­ive majori­ties — typ­i­cal­ly between 55% and 58% — in sur­vey after sur­vey, year after year. The results above are con­sis­tent with what we’d expect to see in response to a ques­tion ask­ing whether peo­ple sup­port cap and invest, or a pol­lu­tion tax.

It says a lot about Wash­ing­to­ni­ans that they remain sup­port­ive of tak­ing cli­mate action even if a con­se­quence is high­er gas prices and home heat­ing costs.

We are a state that is a nation­al leader in envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, in all areas — from reduc­ing waste to valu­ing trees to fight­ing pol­lu­tion to con­serv­ing our remain­ing wild and majes­tic places. We are not a pushover for the oil indus­try, which hap­pens to oper­ate a bunch of refiner­ies on the shores of our Sal­ish Sea.

We should respond to price goug­ing in a way the oil com­pa­nies will under­stand: by propos­ing and explor­ing more ideas to secure a just and accel­er­at­ed tran­si­tion away from fos­sil fuels to a new ener­gy econ­o­my, like a wind­fall prof­its tax.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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