Gas prices are advertised at $4.19 per gallon, Monday, March 7, 2022, in downtown Asheboro. (PJ WARD-BROWN/The North State Journal)
ASHEBORO — Governors and state lawmakers across the U.S. are scrambling to provide relief from soaring prices at the gas pump. Gas prices were climbing before Russia invaded Ukraine. With Russian crude out of the energy mix in the U.S., fuel prices will likely continue to climb as inflation reaches new high across the U.S. economy.
In Asheboro, regular unleaded gasoline topped $4.00 this week with prices as high as $4.19 on Monday. Diesel fuel exceeded $5.00.
In announcing a ban on U.S. imports of Russian oil on Tuesday, President Joe Biden was blunt in warning that while the move would hurt Russia, “there will be a cost as well here in the United States.” He sought to avoid being blamed for that by dubbing it “Putin’s price hike.”
Later, while arriving on a visit to Texas, Biden was asked if he had a message for the American people about gas prices and responded, “They’re going to go up.”
“Can’t do much right now,” the president added in response to questions. “Russia is responsible.”
That’s a message the president may have to reinforce repeatedly in coming days as drivers in the U.S. adjust to the shock of rapidly increasing gasoline prices, which reached a record average of $4.17 per gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA. That increase, combined with concerns about the rising cost of other goods, could add to the headwinds Democrats are facing heading into this year’s midterm elections.
Top Republicans blamed Biden for the higher gas prices, and assailed the White House for promoting climate change-fighting environmental measures that they said had hurt U.S. energy production domestically and helped drive fuel prices up.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Democratic “policies are why we are here in the first place.”
Republican Rep. August Pfluger, who represents a portion of West Texas’ oil patch, called banning Russian oil imports “great,” but also a “lesser step.”
“It is time to unleash American oil and gas,” Pfluger said, contending that the White House’s ”assault on the oil and gas industry has created a weakness in the United States.”
Climbing energy prices comes as U.S. businesses posted a near-record level of open jobs in January, a trend that has helped push up worker’s pay and added to inflationary pressures in the U.S. economy.
Employers posted 11.3 million jobs at the end of January, down slightly from a record of 11.4 million in December, the Labor Department said Wednesday.
Average hourly pay increased 5.1% in February compared with a year earlier, according to U.S. statistics released last week, a rapid gain that forces companies to either become more efficient or raise prices to offset their higher labor costs. In some industries such as restaurants, large pay gains for workers have driven prices higher.
On Thursday, the government will issue its inflation report, which economists expect will show that consumer prices leapt 7.9% in February compared with a year ago, according to data provide FactSet. That would be the biggest gain in four decades. Wednesday’s report underscores the distorted nature of the job market after two years of the pandemic. There are 1.7 available jobs for every unemployed worker, which has led to widespread complaints among businesses about worker shortages.