Americans spent more on gas this year as percentage of their income than at any other time in 30 years. To most people this would be devastating news.
Not to the man President Obama trusts to reinvigorate business, John Bryson. The new secretary of commerce, Bryson has advocated for higher energy prices for his entire public career -- and still does.
Unfortunately, too few senators took notice of his radical views when they confirmed him this October.
From 1979-1982, Bryson chaired California's Public Utilities Commission where he used fixed-rate contracts to drive up electricity prices for consumers, and Bryson isn't shy about admitting the effect of his policies.
"What California has done is knowingly incur higher cents per-kilowatt-hour costs," he boasted. "They're substantially higher than the U.S. average in order to invest in the kind of systems we have in California .... that's been part of the regulatory environment for the investor owned utilities as long as I've been close to it."
In the mid-1980s, Bryson used his insider knowledge to land a position at the state's largest utility, Southern California Edison, where he continued to lobby for higher rates. "At California Edison," he said, "we have 99 separate programs, very expensive programs, and those contribute to higher cent per kilowatt-hour unit costs because you're not spreading the infrastructure base across as large a set of sales. There can be a question of just how high those costs can go, but the reality is California's [prices] are higher and knowingly higher."
Today, Bryson is still working for higher prices. In a 2008 panel discussion with author Tom Friedman and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Bryson said, "Take global warming. It's going to cost something to deal effectively with this. Energy prices are going to have to go up."
His comments had an effect on Breyer. "We better get away from oil. That'll help us. I hear Tom Friedman and Bryson -- they are giving five reasons why. .... They said the world price -- raise the price of oil. Raise the price of oil! Raise it through the roof, and then people will look for substitutes, so I cheer," he said smiling.
They understand the consequences for the poor as well. "Developing countries have what seem to me legitimate aspirations to bring the levels of prosperity in their own countries to the levels that exist in the developed world. An appeal simply to ... living less affluent lives is unlikely to be a very successful mantra in meeting the global challenge here."
They don't expect it to work in the United States either, which is why Breyer recommends disguising the strategy. "What I hear is, 'It's just because you make these huge salaries in the judiciary. You haven't thought about the average person.' But I am thinking about the average person. Isn't that the problem, that the average person is going to have to pay too, and quite a lot?
"You hear these 'terrible' words: tax. But remember Alfred Kahn? Kahn was told by Jimmy Carter don't refer to the word recession, so he said, 'OK, we're about to have a banana.' Fine, let's put a banana on oil," he said laughing. These liberal establishment "beyond-oil" policies not only haven't worked since they were started in the 1970s. They have proven disastrous for America's poor and middle class.
President Obama's anti-drilling, anti-pipeline, anti-oil policies are costing Americans thousands. This year, Americans spent almost 8.5 percent of their incomes on gas, about $4,155, the highest share since 1981. If the commerce secretary has his way, they'll go even higher in 2012.