Steven Chu Forced to Recant Belief in Higher Gas Prices

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The indignities are piling up for Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate Secretary of Energy whom environmentalists applauded as one of Obama's best cabinet picks. His security detail won't let the lifelong cyclist bike to work. And on Earth Day, he fielded questions like this one (via Talking Points Memo) during a House hearing on the proposed climate bill. Texas representative Joe Barton asked Chu where oil comes from, and the Energy Secretary delved into plate tectonics. Barton boasted afterward that he had "baffled" Chu.

I had a webcast of this hearing streaming in the background, and my ears perked up when I heard this exchange about gas prices between Chu and Florida Republican Cliff Stearns (starts at the 32:30 mark):

Stearns to Chu: Last September you made a statement that somehow we have to boost the price of gasoline to the levels of Europe, which at the time exceeded $8 per gallon. As Secretary of Energy would you speak for or against any measures to raise the price of gasoline?

Chu: The Secretary of Energy, especially now in today's economic climate, would be completely unwise to want to increase the price of gasoline. We're looking forward to reducing the cost of transportation in the American family. This is done by encouraging more fuel efficient cars. This is done by developing alternative forms of fuel like biofuels that can lead to a separate source, an independent source of transportation fuel.

Stearns: You can't honestly believe that you want the American people to pay for gasoline at the prices the level in Europe.

Chu: No we don't.

Stearns: Your statement that gas prices ought to rise to the level of Europe, doesn't that sound a little bit silly, in retrospect, for you to say that?

Chu: Yes.

Chu's tongue may be tied for political reasons, but holding gas prices -- and the gas tax -- steady is going to make any push for transit a whole lot tougher.