Standing in front of four electric buses in the Highline School District, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee called a press conference Thursday to address fuel prices in the Evergreen State.
“[These buses] represent both the future and the present of the state of Washington, where we are transforming our economy to one that runs on clean energy and reducing outrageous costs for oil and gas,” said Inslee before going on to accuse the oil and gas industry of selectively price gouging in Washington.
He proposed future legislation, which he said would be introduced in January, to “demand transparency” and “force them to release their [accounting] books.”
He went on to highlight the $11.4 billion in profit ExxonMobil made in the first quarter of 2023, up from $5.5 billion in the first quarter of 2022.
“This is the most profitable industry in human history. They dwarf profits from anywhere else,” said Inslee.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft announced profits of $18.3 billion during the same time period.
The next three most profitable oil companies – Shell, BP, and Chevron – combine to make $24.5 billion in profit for the first quarter of 2023.
Apple disclosed profits of $24.16 billion over the same period and $30 billion in the quarter before.
Some industry experts think this incident isn’t isolated, calling out Inslee on a history of incorrect details around the cap-and-invest program.
“Rather than ‘strategically misrepresenting’ the issue to the public, the Governor and lawmakers can help consumers and businesses in the state by working with us to fix the cap-and-trade program,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, Western States Petroleum Association president, in a statement to The Center Square. “They claimed the program would cost ‘pennies,’ but Washington’s consumers are now paying 50 cents per gallon for just the cap-and-trade program.”
When Inslee was asked what would be done about pump prices before the nebulous legislative solution in January because “in the meantime, the oil companies are passing on the costs of those credits,” he categorically denied that’s what was happening.
“No, they’re not passing [it] on,” replied Inslee on Thursday, suggesting none of the recent price rise has been due to the state’s new cap-and-invest policy.
At one point during the conference, Inslee joked that he “doesn’t have a Nobel Prize in Economics” and claimed his bachelor’s in economics from the University of Washington was “enough to see that oil companies are blatantly price gouging.”
Republican state legislators disagree.
“As I’ve said before, anyone with the slightest grasp of economics had to know that forcing companies to buy ‘carbon allowances’ from the state would eventually hit consumers. It’s not a surprise,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, in a statement following the news release.
“Now it seems they don’t want to be accountable for their intentions and their actions. Instead, they complain about oil-company profits, even though their ‘cap and gouge’ policy has made it possible for the state to do its own profiteering — like $850 million from just two auctions of carbon allowances,” added Wilson.
With those two auctions complete, and three more remaining this year due to a cap-and-invest clause triggered by high auction prices adding a third, that trend continuing means the state’s profit could top $2.12 billion this year.
Senate Republican Leader Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, also released a statement following Inslee’s press conference.
“The governor’s news conference today was a blatant attempt to scapegoat one of his favorite boogeymen, which is the oil industry,” Braun stated. “It is patently ridiculous to assume the oil companies would just absorb the hit from the governor’s Cap and Gouge plan. The simple truth is that companies pass increases in their overhead on to their customers through higher prices — just as small business and gig workers pass along increased costs from taxes and regulations to their customers in the form of higher prices. If the oil companies really wanted to cash in, why would they choose to do so in Washington over the dozen other states that have higher populations? It’s nonsense.
“The reality is that gas prices rose to historically high levels in Washington at the same time the ‘Cap and Gouge’ began. Any new proposals that don’t deal with the carbon program won’t bring down fuel prices. Arguments to the contrary are only meant to distract the people from the core issue – Washington’s Climate Commitment Act is the cause of the highest gas prices in the nation and is disproportionately affecting those with lower incomes.”
Likewise, 19th District Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, weighed in.
“The governor’s news conference was one of the strangest spectacles I have seen — 25 minutes of ‘blame everyone but me,’” Wilson stated. “We saw him blame oil refiners for high gas prices. We saw him blame Republicans for daring to point out this is an artificial crisis, created by legislation and administrative rules written by the Department of Ecology. But we didn’t see him step up and take personal responsibility for the damage his program is doing to the Washington economy and the hardship it is placing on the populace. The governor wanted to make Washington a national leader in climate legislation. He succeeded in making Washington the national leader in high gas prices.”
Information from The Chronicle was added to this report.