California repeatedly warned about spiking gas prices, fragile supply. But fixes never came.
When he was running for lieutenant governor, Jerry Brown was the first governor west of the Mississippi to speak out against America’s addiction to oil. He once even compared himself to the country’s gas-guzzling founder.
If anything, today’s California has become even more addicted to oil, which has more than doubled its price in the past 10 years.
“It’s so bad,” says state transportation secretary Pamspey Teng, who oversees the state’s highway and transportation programs.
But her department has not yet made it a top priority to find ways to slow the decline and reverse the soaring price. The transportation department’s annual budget for oil and gas now stands at $3 billion.
“I can’t think of a single person who has ever said to me they would like to see oil go down,” Teng says.
The transportation department, which is also responsible for building roads and ferries to help the state haul freight, has been struggling to keep up with the rising costs, says Mark Rodgers, a transportation consultant who lives in Santa Rosa and works for a land and water consulting company.
“The state of California is in serious financial distress, and that’s a crisis,” Rodgers says. “It’s not going away. The question is how severe that crisis is going to be, what its long-term consequences are going to be and how this government will find a way to recover from it.”
There are good and bad aspects to the current petroleum crisis. The good: It has forced California to think more seriously about its relationship to oil, and to become more involved in efforts to manage it. And the bad: It has sent the state’s gas prices off the cliff.
While the state’s gas prices did spike in January as prices in California’s nearest neighbors rose, the spike was less severe than expected. In a year that averaged $1.92 in gas nationally and $1.71 in California, prices in the Golden State rose to $3.15 in January,