(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file)
In the early 20th century, horse-drawn carriages were still the dominant mode of transportation for humanity. Within a few years, livery stables were replaced by gas stations and, thanks to Henry Ford’s assembly lines, even the hard-working working class family could afford an automobile.
In 1915, 2 million automobiles were sold in the United States. Five years later, 8 million cars were registered. Over the past 50 years, new car sales in the United States have averaged 15 million per year. All this increased mobility needed blood or fuel to bring it to life. Oil had been extracted by wells since 1859 in Pennsylvania. Millions of new customers needing gasoline spurred a nationwide “black gold” rush.
The combination of seemingly unlimited fuel and a middle class that built ever faster and more luxurious “tanks” for the common man allowed for a level of prosperity and freedom of movement unprecedented in history. This partnership has provided jobs to millions of Americans as engineers, welders, electricians, assembly line workers, mechanics, salespeople, parts sellers, truck drivers, truck and many more.
In 2017, a study commissioned by the Western States Petroleum Association showed that nearly 366,000 jobs in California depended on this industry. This represents 1.6% of the total workforce. These workers and their families have been treated by state government and many elected officials as if they are, at the very least, complicit in the destruction of our planet. This mistreatment has also trickled down to local governments, banning everything from new wells to a moratorium on new gas stations. Let’s look at life as it was in 1900 and compare it to today and see what progress could never have happened without these courageous, hardworking individuals, from wildcat drillers to midnight neighborhood gas station clerks dangerous.
At the start of the 20th century, the average family income in the United States was $3,000 (in today’s dollars). There was no plumbing, no telephone, no car. The average lifespan was 47 years.
Today, the average family income exceeds $76,000 and almost every home has indoor plumbing, multiple telephones and more than one car. The average lifespan is 77 years. This increase in prosperity and quality of life would not stand a chance without the fuel needed to propel us into the future.
Yet if you ask a recent public school graduate to name anything positive about fossil fuels, they will be hard-pressed to think of any redeeming qualities in history or today.
In August 2022, the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, issued a directive stating that all new cars sold in the state by 2035 must have zero tailpipe emissions. Why would anyone build a new gas station if your product will be contraband in 12 years? We already have twice as many cars per station as other states.
Last September, Attorney General Rob Bonta sued the five oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute for knowingly promoting, marketing and selling products that have been destroying the environment and climate for more than 50 years. I suggest everyone read the contents of the lawsuit, because it describes the leaders and all their agents (366,000 employees) as simple fentanyl dealers who wreak havoc on the lives of young people.
Recently, the legislature passed and the governor signed a bill that creates a commission to set the profits of these same companies at what it considers a fair return while removing any “excess” from their obscene markup and by returning it to the public. The governor blames California’s relatively high gas prices on corporate greed instead of stifling taxes, fees and regulation.
The state has made it clear that it wants to move away from fossil fuels, and it won’t be long before it does. Be careful what you wish for, though. If all five companies decided to export their products and leave the state in a short period of time, a real disaster would ensue. It wouldn’t take PhDs at elite universities to see the rapid disintegration of our society and standard of living in weeks, not years. These companies have more clout than they think and it’s time to stop allowing the state to abuse them in this way.
Jeff Hewitt previously served as Riverside County Supervisor.