Good Gov. Jerry Brown, and those tricky oil companies
So Wednesday was a good news/bad news day locally.
You don't really want to read the bad news first, do you? So let's start with the good: Gov. Jerry Brown has once again proved he’s a man of the people.
Brown vetoed another of those "and why do we need this?" bills so popular in Sacramento, this one aimed at people who text or use a hand-held cellphone while driving.
No, you didn't miss any huge news: It's still illegal in California to text or use a hand-held cellphone behind the wheel.
Brown rejected a bill that would have raised the fines for such offenses for some folks.
As The Times reported:
Repeat offenders could have ended up paying more than $500 when court fees and penalties are added in, under legislation sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).
Simitian proposed that the base fine for the first offense increase from $20 to $50 because of concern that not enough motorists are complying with the 3-year-old hands-free requirement for cellphone uses.
Showing his Lincolnesque side, Brown wrote in his veto message:
"I certainly support discouraging cellphone use while driving, but not ratcheting up the penalties as prescribed by this bill. For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent."
Now that's a good governor. Like your dad, he knows when to be stern and when to cut us kids, er, citizens some slack.
So that's the good news. The bad news is gasoline -– more specifically, how much it costs.
As The Times reported Wednesday:
In California, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline jumped 13.5 cents in the last week, to $3.944, the Energy Department said. That's also 90.3 cents a gallon higher than the average a year earlier.
Nationally, the Energy Department said, the average price climbed 4.7 cents a gallon to $3.674 over the last week -- 99.2 cents higher than a year earlier.
OK, that's not really news to you. After all, you’re the one pumping that expensive gas. What is surprising is why prices keep climbing.
Just for fun, let's try a multiple-choice test. Are prices going up because:
- Moammar Kadafi is a tyrant/dog and, even though he's been overthrown, Libya is in chaos?
- Barack Obama is a tyrant/dog and won't "Drill baby drill"?
- Most of our oil comes from Texas and most of that state is on fire?
- U.S. refineries continue to boost exports and reduce supplies available domestically?
If you answered A, well, you're close; B, you're a Republican; C, you're a Democrat who hates Rick Perry; D, you're right -– and you probably read The Times' Business section religiously. [Update: And if you, like sharp-eyed reader Kitty Barfola, answered, "Hey, what the ...?", you also noticed that the questions are numbered but the answers are lettered. Sorry. Signed: Overworked ink-stained wretch of a writer.]
As the story said:
"The U.S. petroleum balance of trade continues to shift in a sea change that is both literal and figurative," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. "For the 10th week in a row, Energy Department numbers show that the country exported considerably more refined products cargoes than were imported."
In English (and as the story explains), that means U.S. refineries are making lots of diesel fuel, then sending it to buyers in Central and South America.
As the story concludes:
The most recent statistics show exports of refined products from the U.S. outpacing imports by 476,000 barrels a day.
"That figure is a new modern-day record. We are a net exporter now," Kloza said. "If not for high prices in the U.S., it would be something to cheer about in terms of helping the deficit. But in the U.S., it's just going to get under people's skin. It's like we're selling off our birthright."
Kloza, clearly, is a savant. I'm guessing he's right that paying more at the pump for gasoline while enduring the worst job market in decades while oil companies post record profits "is just going to get under people’s skin."
But it's OK. Maybe I'm sending this from my smartphone while driving. And maybe I'll get caught. But if so, the fine will be the same as before.
Photo: A unicyclist finds a way to beat high gas prices in Portland, Ore. In California, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline jumped 13.5 cents in the last week, to $3.944, the Energy Department said. Credit: Rick Bowmer/Associated Press