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opinion

A gas pump is seen in a car at a Shell gas station in Washington.ANDREW KELLY/Reuters

Gus Carlson is a New York-based columnist for The Globe and Mail

Brook West opted to drive the 4,100-kilometre round trip from his home in Darien, Conn., to West Palm Beach, Fla. for Thanksgiving with his family, because it was cheaper than flying.

But with gas prices soaring along the Interstate 95 corridor on the U.S. East Coast, the savings are turning out to be a lot less than he expected.

Mr. West pays close attention to such things. Since he uses his pickup truck for work in the marine service industry, he logs every mile and every fill-up.

He said he filled up before he left home last week, paying US$3.65 a gallon. Prices on the way south were around US$3.50 a gallon, and US$3.44 a gallon when he topped up in West Palm Beach.

Mr. West’s log shows the steep increase in gas prices from 11 months ago, when he made the same trip at Christmas. Then, he paid US$2.49 a gallon in Connecticut, and US$2.15 a gallon in Florida. The increase is consistent with the national trend – gas prices are at their highest levels since 2014, up an average of more than US$1 from a year ago, and in excess of US$5 a gallon in some areas.

Over all, the trip that cost him about US$525 last year will cost more than US$800 this year. That’s a hefty increase – and a savings of only about US$400 on roundtrip airfare.

“The prices are disgusting; obscene,” Mr. West said. “Joe Biden says he’s for the average American, the little guy. Really? Because I’m not seeing it.”

Like an increasing number of Americans, Mr. West says rising prices for gas and other goods are hurting him personally, and he holds President Biden responsible.

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A poll of nearly 1,700 respondents released this week by Yahoo News/YouGov showed 77 per cent of Americans said inflation was affecting their personal lives, and 57 per cent blamed Mr. Biden. Further, the poll found more respondents (17 per cent) said inflation was the most important issue facing Americans – including COVID-19 (15 per cent) – while only 18 per cent said Mr. Biden was doing enough to address it.

Inflation has set a torrid pace. Since last October, prices have risen 6.2 per cent over all – the fastest yearly rate in three decades. Since Mr. Biden took office in January, the problems have accelerated, exacerbated by supply-chain issues, shortages of workers and rising concerns about how taxpayers will pay for the administration’s massive spending programs.

To be sure, Americans are frustrated and angry. Mr. Biden’s job-performance approval rating has sunk to 43 per cent in recent months, while his disapproval rate has risen to 52 per cent. His performance on managing the economy ranks even lower, at 40 per cent.

“I don’t know how the average family will survive the next three years with these high energy costs and runaway inflation,” said Anthony Giordano, a commercial real estate executive in Westchester County, outside New York.

Mr. Giordano was fuming as he tried to fill up his SUV this week at a local gas station. As if the US$5 a gallon prices weren’t bad enough, the pump had a regulator that capped the sale before the tank was full.

“How have we gone from being an energy exporter with record-low energy prices to begging OPEC for an increase in output in only 11 months?” he asked. “Under Biden, we have decreased our energy output, increased government regulations, cancelled an important oil pipeline with our neighbour Canada, terminated oil exploration leases and quickly turned the U.S. into an energy importer. And all to pay for a dubious Green New Deal agenda.”

John Aumer, a Los Angeles lawyer, can relate. He said he pays from US$4.59 to US$4.79 a gallon at local stations, roughly US$1.40 a gallon higher than a year ago. The one bright spot: His 56-kilometre round-trip daily drive to work recently got shortened thanks to a new work space.

“Now our offices are about 10 minutes away from my house,” he said. “Needless to say, I am rather pleased with the new commute.”

Is there any relief in sight? Mr. Biden said this week he would release 50 million barrels from the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve in an effort to reduce soaring prices. Other administrations have used similar short-term tactics to force corrections in the market.

Mr. West is hopeful, but skeptical. “If it works, good on him,” he said. “But I’m not sure Americans have much confidence in this guy.”

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