Americans spent nearly 4 percent of their household budgets on gasoline in 2012, the highest percentage in three decades as persistently high pump prices cut into their checkbooks, the government acknowledged Monday.
The bad new for household budgets came as the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee proposed a sweeping new energy policy that would end American reliance on OPEC imports by 2020.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, proposed expanded drilling, increased research on energy eficiency and low-carbon energy options and immediate approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline as the key tenets of a plan to eliminate OPEC imports of oil within seven years. But she warned against unilateral climate change actions.
"Because climate change is a global concern, however, if we pursue burdensome and costly legal and regulatory responses that are unlikely to be matched by other countries, we put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage without making a meaningful impact on global greenhouse gas emissions," she wrote.
Murkowski unveiled her plan as the Energy Information Agency issued a new report showing the average American household spent $2,912 on gasoline in 2012, or just under 4 percent of its income before taxes.
EIA said it was the highest estimated percentage of household income spent on gasoline in nearly three decades, matching a similar amount during a spike in gas prices in 2008 just before the election. Back in the 1980s, gasoline costs accounted for as much as 5 percent of household budgets, it said.
The agency, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, said Americans' cost of driving went up even as their gasoline consumption went down.
"Although overall gasoline consumption has decreased in recent years, a rise in average gasoline prices has led to higher overall household gasoline expenditures," it said.
"Although travel per household has increased significantly since the early 1980s, vehicle efficiency has also risen significantly, reducing the amount of gasoline used per mile," the agency explained.
With efficiency gains and a slow economy, total U.S. gasoline consumption fell in 2011 to 134.2 billion gallons, its lowest level since 2001. But retail gasoline price rose 26.1 percent in 2011, and another 3.3 percent in 2012, when it reached $3.70 per gallon, the agency said.
President Barack Obama, as a candidate in 2008, promised to take long-term actions that would reduce the impact of gas prices on families but has not been able to achieve that goal so far. In fact, prices began rising again in January after a brief winter lull.
"What we need right now are not appealing but meaningless gimmicks, designed to get politicians through the next election, "obama said back inn 2008. "What we need now is a serious national commitment to meet our responsibility to our country and the next generation… I wish I could just make gas prices come down on their own. No president ca.
"What I will do as president is tax the record profits of oil companies and use the money to help struggling families pay their energy bills. I will fully close the loophole that allows corporations to engage in unregulated speculation that artificially drives up the price of oil," he promised then.