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It's an informal tradition in politics that if you're running for national office, you blame the incumbent for everything except the weather. (Although in these days of debate over climate change, the weather might be an issue of contention as well.)
Republican Michael Riley followed that tradition in a Sept. 30, 2012, news release attacking incumbent U.S. Rep. James Langevin, a Democrat.
Headlined "Langevin Does Nothing to Lower the Price of Gas in Rhode Island," it blames Langevin for taking votes that led to higher gasoline prices, such as opposing "completion of the Keystone Pipeline." (For the record, the pipeline, even if it had been approved as proposed in 2008, wasn't going to be completed until 2013, so it would have had no effect on current gasoline prices.)
"When Congressman Langevin took office, gas was around $1.70 per gallon, and now it is near $4 per gallon," the Riley release says, contending elsewhere in the statement that Langevin is "in part" to blame.
First, we checked Riley's numbers.
According to the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, when Langevin took office on Jan. 8, 2001, the average price of a gallon of self-service gasoline was about $1.54. The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the January 2001 price at $1.53. That's not $1.70. Riley got that wrong.
On Sept. 30, 2012, when Riley issued his news release, the Rhode Island price was about $3.93, nearly $4, as the candidate said. He got that part right.
When looking at claims such as this, we also ask ourselves whether it's accurate to ascribe blame.
Riley says in his news release that Langevin is partly to blame because of his energy votes.
We called and e-mailed the Riley campaign on Oct. 2 to find out how much blame he was talking about. We asked: "How much responsibility does Langevin bear for the gas prices going from $1.70 when he took office to close to $4 now? 100%? 50%? 10%? 1%? 0.1%?"
We never got a response.
In fact, oil is a world commodity and gasoline prices are influenced by a wide variety of factors beyond the control of a single politician, and Langevin is one of 535 voting members of Congress.
The impact of the pipeline, to cite one of Riley's issues, is debatable. While the company behind the project has said it would reduce prices by 3.5 to 4 cents per gallon, a March Business Week story concluded that building the pipeline wouldn't bring down gasoline prices. Another analysis predicted that the pipeline could actually raise prices by 10 cents per gallon.
Analysts whom PolitiFact and other news organizations have consulted over the years have repeatedly said that office holders, including the president, have little impact on gasoline prices at any particular time.
Michael Riley blames Rep. James Langevin "in part" for skyrocketing gasoline prices, saying, "When Congressman Langevin took office, gas was around $1.70 per gallon, and now it is near $4 per gallon."
Langevin was first elected to Congress nearly a dozen years ago, when the price was closer to $1.53, not $1.70.
But Langevin's role in the global oil and gasoline market is so small to be almost inconsequential.
Because Riley's statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, we rate it Mostly False.
(Get updates from PolitiFact Rhode Island on Twitter: @politifactri. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)
MikeRileyForCongress.com, "When Congressman Langevin took office, gas was around $1.70 per gallon, and now it is near $4 per gallon," Sept. 30, 2012
PolitiFact.com, "Did Obama policies on Alaska, Solyndra and Keystone contribute to today's high gas prices?" April 19, 2012
Energy.RI.gov, "Gasoline prices," State of Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, accessed Oct. 4, 2012.
PolitiFact.com, "National Republican Congressional Committee says gas prices have increased by a greater percentage under Obama than any other president since Carter," April 29, 2012
PolitiFact.com, "Mike Dovilla claims Obama's refusal to allow the Keystone Pipeline to proceed thwarted the ability to reduce gas prices," April 17, 2012
BusinessWeek.com, "Why the Keystone Pipeline Won't Ease Pain at the Pump," March 26, 2012
Forbes.com, "Is Obama Really to Blame for Rising Gas Prices? Do You Really Care?" Feb. 27, 2012
Bloomberg.com, "Keystone Oil Pipeline Seen Raising Gas Prices in Midwest: Energy," Feb. 29, 2012
PolifiFact.com, "Billboard blames Obama for high gas prices," Aug. 24, 2012
YouTube.com, "FLASHBACK: Fox News On Gas Prices In 2008," March 5, 2012, accessed Oct. 4, 2012
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