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During the Sept. 7, 2011, Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., offered a line she has used frequently in the past: "The day that President Obama took office, gasoline was $1.79 a gallon." She added that "it's entirely possible for us to get back to inexpensive energy."
With regular unleaded gasoline now hovering around $3.60 per gallon nationally, a number of readers wondered whether Bachmann was right on the price when Obama was inaugurated. So we looked into it.
We turned to historical data collected by the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Energy Department.
The interactive database offers a variety of measurements, so we’ll cite a few of them here. We’ll use the third week of January 2009 as a stand-in for Jan. 20, the day Obama was sworn in.
Here are the average prices in several categories that week, rounded to the nearest cent:
• Conventional retail gasoline, regular unleaded, national average: $1.83 per gallon
• Reformulated retail gasoline, regular unleaded, national average: $1.88 per gallon
• Gasoline retail prices, regular unleaded, national city average: $1.79
So using one of these measures Bachmann is entirely correct and with the others she’s close.
Of course, the national average is the most obvious way to analyze this issue, but there is usually variation by region. During the week in question, the cost of a gallon of unleaded ranged from a high of $2.00 on the west coast to a low of $1.61 in the Rocky Mountain states.
It's also worth noting that a president's ability to affect gasoline prices is limited. "Other than lip service, there is little any president or member of Congress can do about the price of gas, since 70 percent of the cost of a gallon is determined by the cost of crude oil," said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for the mid-Atlantic region of the American Automobile Association.
As recently as early 2009, a gallon of gasoline cost half what it cost today, which may be hard to remember, given the recent run of high prices. But it did cost that little. So we rate Bachmann’s statement True.
Transcript of Republican Presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Sep. 7, 2011 (CQ subscribers only)
U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Motor Gasoline Retail Prices, U.S. City Average," accessed Sept. 8, 2011
U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Weekly Retail Gasoline and On-Highway Diesel Prices," accessed Sept. 8, 2011
E-mail interview with John B. Townsend II, spokesman for the mid-Atlantic region of the American Automobile Association, Sept. 8, 2011
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