MONEY energy

The High Cost of That Draft Under Your Door

Snow covers a street at daybreak Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, in south Buffalo, N.Y.
Carolyn Thompson—AP

As it gets colder outside it's time to break down heating costs by the numbers.

It may not be winter yet—the season doesn’t officially start until December 21, of course—but the weather doesn’t care. Temperatures across the country are plummeting, and a new “polar vortex,” otherwise known as a cold front, is already upon us. And the “lake effect” has hit Buffalo with a vengeance.

That frigid weather is bad news, and not just because many will soon be forced into a coat and hat. The change in season also means more heating expenses, and it can put a chill on your finances if you’re not careful about managing the thermostat. Here’s the costs of winter, by the numbers.

45% — The portion of your energy bill that goes to heating. According to the Department of Energy, heating is the largest expense in the average American home.

$649 — The average cost of heating a home with natural gas from October through March. Roughly half of Americans use natural gas to heat their homes.

$938 — The average cost of heating a home this winter with electricity. About one-third of American homes have electric heating.

$1,992 — The average cost of heating a home with heating oil. According to the Energy Information Administration, heating oil is used by about 6% of households, mostly in homes with older (and less efficient) heating systems.

$362 — How much heating oil households will save compared to last year because of lower prices. Natural-gas users will save just $11.

6 feet — The amount of snow that has fallen in Buffalo since Tuesday. Another 20 to 30 inches of snow is expected.

220,000 tons — The estimated weight of the snow that has fallen in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. The team is offering fans $10 an hour and free game tickets to help clear the field.

1% — The amount of money you can shave off your heating bill for every degree you turn your thermostat down during the winter, according to the Department of Energy. The DOE estimates turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours can save you 5% to 15% on heating costs.

1/8-inch — Size of a gap under a 36-inch-wide door that will let in as much cold air as a 2.4-inch-diameter hole punched in the wall.

$1,000 — The amount one Utah home saves on winter energy costs by using a wood burning stove. Authorities are cracking down on this practice because of its negative impact on air quality.

Read Next:
Beat the Winter Chill Without Breaking the Bank
7 Easy Ways to Lower Winter Energy Costs

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 19

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Teach data literacy in elementary school.

By Mohana Ravindranath in the Washington Post

2. A new app lets kids explore the life and living conditions of other children around the world.

By Laura Bliss in CityLab

3. Politics inside Yemen — once a reliable U.S. ally and success story in the war on terror — has pushed the nation out of our influence.

By Adam Baron in Defense One

4. When it comes to science and health news, radio might save journalism.

By Anna Clark in Columbia Journalism Review

5. Rooftop solar power could beat the price of coal in two years — if utilities don’t shut it down.

By Lucas Mearian in ComputerWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

The Politics of the Keystone XL Pipeline in 3 Stories

House Votes On Full Passage Of Keystone Pipeline
Members walk down the steps of the House side of the US Capitol after voting on the Kyestone XL Pipeline, Nov. 14, 2014. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The controversy around the project is not just a matter of environmental impact

On Friday, as the House voted to approve a proposal for the long-debated Keystone Pipeline, we rounded up TIME’s past coverage of the environmental questions behind the controversial pipeline — but, with the Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on their own version of the proposal, it’s clear that the environmental impact isn’t the only factor influencing decision-making.

As these three stories make clear, the politics are nearly as complex as the science:

July 22, 2013: Beyond the Keystone Pipeline

Michael Grunwald posits that the energy agenda could be a big part of President Obama’s legacy, and that there are reasons beyond the climate why he might want to veto the pipeline even if the legislature approves it, as has been suggested he will:

It’s true that Keystone isn’t the ideal battleground for the fight against global warming. The Canadian tar-sand glop that Big Oil hopes to send to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico might come out of the ground even if the pipeline is rejected. Oil isn’t quite as awful as coal, and its competitors aren’t yet as viable as coal’s. But the Montgomery, Ala., bus system wasn’t the ideal battleground, either; it was just where Rosa Parks decided to fight. Presidents don’t get to choose what activists care about. Presidents just get to choose sides. “After all he’s done on climate, I just can’t imagine that he’d approve this,” says Tom Steyer, a billionaire Obama donor who is bankrolling a crusade against the pipeline. “It would be so disappointing to his supporters. Such a self-inflicted wound.”

Nov. 13, 2014: The Politics Behind Mary Landrieu’s Pipeline Power Play

Alex Rogers analyzes Senator Mary Landrieu’s call for the Senate to bring the matter to a vote:

The frantic maneuvering started Wednesday morning when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell promised [Landrieu's challenger Bill] Cassidy a spot on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee if Cassidy beats Landrieu in the December runoff. Landrieu chairs the committee and has touted her tenure there as a symbol of her influence on Capitol Hill.

Nov. 13, 2014: GOP Prepares for an Energy Battle

Denver Nicks takes a look at broader feelings about energy and the environment among the Republican leadership, revealing that the pipeline is just the beginning:

Near the top of [Mitch McConnell's] to-do list is bringing the Keystone XL pipeline to a vote. Climate activists have made a priority of killing the proposed pipeline from oil sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, but it may soon become their Alamo. With the cooperation of a handful of centrist Democrats, the GOP could have a filibuster-proof majority on the question, forcing President Obama to approve or veto the project. Either way, he will be forced to show his hand on a question about which he’s been coy to date.

TIME energy

A Brief Guide to the Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

Construction Along The Keystone XL Pipeline
Workers move a section of pipe during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline, part of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, in Atoka, Okla. on March 11, 2013. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A handy explainer

What is the Keystone XL Pipeline?

It is a proposed extension of a pipeline that transports oil from Alberta, Canada to a major petroleum exchange in Cushing, Okla., and from there to the Gulf of Mexico. The existing smaller pipeline takes a more circuitous route. The Canadian company TransCanada’s solution is to build a larger-capacity, more direct link from Alberta to the existing pipeline. That project is known as Keystone XL.

Why is Obama involved?

Because the Keystone XL link would cross an international boundary between the U.S. and Canada, the project requires presidential approval. Proponents say Keystone XL will reduce the need to move oil by freight train—which can lead to potentially dangerous accidents—and create perhaps tens of thousands of jobs. President Obama, who has not taken a public position on the project, has cited a State Department analysis that concludes the pipeline will create only about 2,000 jobs during construction and 50 around permanent jobs once it’s complete.

Why is it controversial?

Climate activists have rallied around the Keystone XL pipeline as an environmental litmus test. They worry that it will intrude on property rights—courts have allowed TransCanada to run sections of the pipeline over private land, despite objections from the property owners –and warn that it could be vulnerable to environmentally dangerous leaks along its proposed 1,700 mile route. But their primary objection is that the project will encourage the burning of fossil fuels and worsen climate change. The oil shipped through the new pipe would come from Canada’s so-called tar sands, which climate activists say is dirtier and worse for the environment than regular oil.

A State Department review released in January found that Keystone XL would have little effect on the planet’s environmental health because the oil in Canada’s tar sands will be extracted and sold through another avenue if the project is blocked.

What happens next?

The southern portion of the Keystone pipeline connecting Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico will open for business in 2015. The northern extension—the one everyone’s arguing about—has yet to be approved. But the Dec. 6 runoff for the Louisiana Senate seat of Democrat Mary Landrieu gave the project a jolt in Washington, as Landrieu and her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, jockey to claim credit for getting it built. The House passed legislation sponsored by Cassidy allowing Keystone XL on Nov. 14 and the Senate votes on a similar measure backed by Landrieu on Nov. 18. President Obama has signaled that he may veto the legislation, but he has not taken a public stance. No matter what happens at the federal level, Keystone XL is likely to face court battles in states through which it passes.

TIME Environment

The Keystone XL Pipeline: Three Stories to Help You Understand the Debate

Truth About Oil
The Apr. 9, 2012, cover of TIME PHOTOGRAPH BY KENJI AOKI FOR TIME

The House has approved a pipeline proposal; the Senate is expected to vote on the subject next week

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has become the single most important environmental issue in the U.S.—even though its environmental impact may not even be that great. The pipeline would move some 830,000 barrels of crude a day from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska and then down to the Gulf of Mexico. Keystone would make it easier for Canadian producers to sell their landlocked crude to the rest of the world—which is exactly what environmentalists fear. Oil sands crude is dirtier and has a bigger carbon footprint than conventional oil.

Landowners in Nebraska worry that a spill could contaminate the state’s vital aquifer, while environmentalists fear that the pipeline will speed the development of the oil sands and help add huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. But other experts argue that oil sands crude will come to the U.S. by another route—most likely through rail—or be sold elsewhere in the world if Keystone isn’t built, meaning the planet won’t be any better off.

Since it’s an international project, the President has to sign off on the Keystone pipeline before it can be built—and much to the consternation of the oil industry, President Obama has delayed his decision for years, claiming that he needs more time to study the pipeline. But with Republicans now firmly in charge of both houses of Congress—and many conservative Democrats in favor of the project—Obama may need to make a decision soon.

With a decision potentially on the horizon — the House passed legislation on Friday and the Senate is expected to vote on the topic next week — refresh your understanding of the debate with these three articles from the TIME archives:

Mar. 12, 2012: Cold Warrior

A profile of activist and author Bill McKibben explains why the pipeline extension drew environmentalists’ attention, and how they helped influence President Obama’s decision to reject a 2012 version of the application to build the pipeline:

Though Canada is already mining and selling oil-sands crude, McKibben saw the proposed Keystone XL pipeline–set to deliver up to 830,000 barrels a day to the U.S.–as a crucial accelerator. More practically, because the cross-border pipeline required State Department approval, he saw an opportunity to confront Obama, who dropped an early climate-change agenda in the face of stiff resistance. In late August, McKibben, along with major environmental groups, helped organize days of protest around the White House. Over 12,000 people showed up, and hundreds were arrested. In November, Obama said he would delay a decision until 2013. But Republicans tacked a provision onto a payroll-tax-cut bill mandating that the White House decide on the pipeline within 60 days. In response, Obama decided in January to reject Keystone XL altogether.

Apr. 9, 2012: The Truth About Oil

A broader look at new sources of oil explains why the crude that would travel through the pipeline is different from other oil:

Oil has never exactly been clean, but the new sources coming online tend to be more polluting and more dangerous than conventional crude. Producing oil from the sands in northern Alberta can be destructive to the local environment, requiring massive open-pit mines that strip forests and take years to recover from. The tailings from those mines are toxic. While some of the newer production methods eschew the open-pit mines and instead process the sands underground or in situ, which is much cleaner, they still require additional energy to turn oil sands into usable crude. As a result, a barrel of oil-sand crude usually has a 10% to 15% larger carbon footprint than conventional crude over its lifetime, from the well to the wheels of a car. Given the massive size of the oil-sand reserve–nearly 200 billion recoverable barrels–that’s potentially a lot of carbon. It’s not surprising that environmentalists have loudly opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would send 800,000 barrels of oil-sand crude a day to the U.S. “There’s enough carbon there to create a totally different planet,” says James Hansen, a NASA climatologist and activist.

Jan. 31, 2014: Report Raises No Major Climate Objections to Keystone Pipeline, But the Choice Is Obama’s

After the President’s initial rejection of the pipeline proposal due to insufficient information, the State Department spent the next few years putting together an assessment of its potential environmental impact. The finding, released early this year, was disappointing to environmentalists: that whether or not the pipeline was built, about the same amount of oil would be produced.

A lot has changed since Keystone was first proposed back in 2005. U.S. domestic oil production has soared, last year hitting the highest level in two decades—a fact that has weakened the case for the international pipeline. At the same, the rapid—and not always safe—growth of oil being shipped by rail in lieu of pipelines has shown just how creative the oil industry can be when it comes to moving their product. Given the overwhelming demand for oil, it’s quite possible that the State Department is right that whether or not the pipeline is built, it will have little impact on the carbon footprint of the oil sands—though that hasn’t stopped the Canadian government from lobbying hard for the project.

Read more of TIME’s science coverage in the TIME Vault

MONEY Gas

Get Used to Gas Prices Under $3 Per Gallon

changing gas price sign
Derek Davis—Getty Images

A new government report is forecasting that the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in 2015 will be $2.94.

It seemed like quite a big deal when the national average for gasoline dipped under $3 recently. The price of the average gallon of regular had started with a $3 from late December 2010 all the way until the beginning of November 2014, when at long last it dropped below the mark. The national average as of Thursday, according to AAA, is $2.917, and some states, such as South Carolina and Tennessee, are averaging under $2.70.

According to a report this week from the federal Energy Information Administration, it looks like sub-$3 gas prices will be sticking around for a while. The report projects that gas prices will keep declining through the end of the year, with a national average of $2.80 expected for December. And the average for 2015 as a whole is being forecast at $2.94 per gallon.

The retail price of gasoline is tied to the wholesale price of crude oil, and due to bountiful supply and shrinking demand, the EIA is predicting that the cost of crude will average $77.75 per barrel next year, compared with $95 in 2014 and $97.91 in 2013. Accordingly, prices at the pump are expected to be cheaper in 2015—averaging $2.94, compared with $3.39 this year and $3.51 in 2013.

If the forecasts hold up, by December the national average will have dropped 90¢ from the 2014 high, and the 2015 average will be roughly 70¢ lower than that of 2012—when it was $3.63, the overall most expensive year (thus far) for gasoline.

 

TIME 2014 Election

The Tom Steyer Strategy: Billionaire Activist Reflects on 2014

Tom Steyer Green Giant
Tom Steyer is building an army from his base in San Francisco Jason Madara for TIME

Despite mixed returns at the polls, the billionaire businessman remains bullish his climate campaign can change politics

In 2014, Tom Steyer emerged as the Democratic Party’s great green hope. The billionaire financier pledged to sink a chunk of his fortune into a campaign to make climate change a central issue in the midterm elections, and he delivered on his promise. Steyer’s political-action committee, NextGen Climate, spent some $65 million during the 2014 cycle. It ran ads in seven hand-picked states, assembled a sophisticated field organization and built a sprawling database of committed supporters.

Was it money well spent? If you measure success at the ballot box, Steyer’s return on investment may seem skimpy.

Just three of the seven candidates NextGen supported were victorious on Tuesday. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen fended off a challenge from Scott Brown in New Hampshire; Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf coasted to victory in Pennsylvania; and Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters won an open seat in Michigan.

But Steyer’s group lost competitive Senate races in Colorado and Iowa, states into which it poured nearly $12 million, and which may prove the difference in the battle for control of the chamber. (Not all ballots have been counted in the Alaska Senate contest, and Louisiana is headed for a December runoff.) NextGen also came out on the wrong side of tight gubernatorial races in Florida and Maine, despite heavy investment to dislodge incumbent Republicans Rick Scott and Paul LePage.

But Steyer is sanguine about the election’s outcome. In an interview with TIME on Thursday, he pointed to NextGen’s ability to push climate issues toward the forefront of campaigns, as well as its efforts to begin the construction of a political machine that can become a powerful force in coming years.

“In terms of the things that we can control, we felt like wow—we way over-performed our expectations,” Steyer says, noting that the group surpassed its target of amassing a quarter-million climate-driven voters by 100,000 and beat its goal by building an email list of a million names. “Climate was a top-tier issue in every one of the states we were working on,” Steyer says, “Which is a huge change—very different from 2012, very different from 2010.”

NextGen forced Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst to defend her climate position in Iowa, and Colorado Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner was sufficiently cowed to run ads touting his support for wind energy in the state. But both GOP candidates prevailed. And in both states, voters declined to rank climate in the top quartet of issues, according to CNN exit polls, instead listing foreign policy, healthcare, the economy and illegal immigration as their top priorities.

In Florida, Scott made only fleeting gestures to the environmental community, and in Maine Steyer’s group failed to oust LePage, who calls climate change a hoax. NextGen’s efforts may have put Republicans on the defensive, but that’s a relatively modest achievement for tens of millions of dollars.

With the GOP poised to take control of Congress in January, the prospects for positive legislation on environmental issues have dimmed. Republicans are preparing a push to approve the Keystone XL pipeline—”a terrible idea,” especially amid plunging oil prices, Steyer says—as well as a likely effort to green-light drilling on public lands. But Steyer says that while NextGen will stay focused on educating people about the economic and environmental benefits of pursuing progressive energy policy, he’s conscious of the limits of its power to affect the legislative process.

“Do I think it’s possible for us to educate people about the facts on the Keystone XL pipeline and influence their thinking by making them aware of what the underlying issues are? Sure,” he says. “But we definitely can’t control this issue” in Congress.

The same goes for this week’s outcome at the polls. Steyer chalks up the defeats in close races to the headwinds of waging a campaign in an off-year cycle, when a second-term president with foundering approval ratings buffeted Democratic candidates. “There was a Republican wave that has nothing to do with us, and in certain of those races, it swept over us,” he says. “It’s something we can’t control.”

And so Steyer hasn’t wavered in his political or financial commitments. NextGen is “not a drive-by super PAC,” he says. “We’re going to build political assets, we’re going to build an organization, we’re choosing states that have national significance. All those things are [still] true … regardless of the outcome. So I feel really good about what we did, and I feel really good about where we’re going.”

TIME Environment

4 Ways the New Top Environment Senator Disagrees With Science

Jim Inhofe
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. gives a victory speech at the Republican watch party in Oklahoma City on Nov. 4, 2014. Sue Ogrocki—AP

Meet Jim Inhofe

Sen. Jim Inhofe is widely expected to take over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee now that Republicans have won control of the Senate, putting one of Washington’s most strident climate change deniers in charge of environmental policy.

In his 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, the Oklahoma Republican argued that climate change science has been manufactured by liberals to scare the American public, push through anti-business regulations and sell newspapers, and that humans should do nothing to regulate greenhouse gases.

Problem is, Inhofe’s opinions are deeply at odds with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, both in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s just a few ways how.

Human activity

Inhofe: The Senator says hundreds of scientists dispute the idea that global warming is the result of human activity.

Science: 97% of international scientists working in fields related to the environmental sciences agree that current global warming trends are the result of human activity. No U.S. or international scientific institutions of any caliber dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change.

Consequences

Inhofe: He says global warming, if it’s happening at all, could be beneficial for humanity. “Thus far, no one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global temperatures would lead to the catastrophes predicted by alarmists,” he said in a 2003 speech. “In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.”

Science: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found unequivocally that climate change will have a catastrophically negative effect on humans. In its fifth report, released Sunday, the panel compiled and analyzed hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies on climate change from all over the world and found that the consequences of inaction will lead, and already are leading, to flooding, diminished crop yields, destructive weather, and mass extinction.

Cycles

Inhofe: If global temperatures appear to be warming, that’s just because “[w]e go through these 30-year cycles,” he said on Mike Huckabee’s radio show in 2013.

Science: Dozens of peer-reviewed international studies, including the 2012 State of the Climate peer-reviewed report by the American Meteorological Society (AMS)—which was compiled by 384 scientists from 52 countries—underscored that current warming trends are happening much more rapidly than any natural warming process, and that it is unquestionably the result of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, released by humans burning fossil fuels.

History

Inhofe: Scientists can’t explain why, eight years ago, “we went into a leveling-out period” in which the earth did not continue to warm.

Science: No such “leveling out” occurred. While individual temperatures spike and plummet every year, climate change science asks a longer-term question: Is the earth warmer than it was fifty years ago? The answer is, again, unequivocally yes. Sea ice has reached a record low, the Arctic has continued to warm, sea temperatures have continued to increase, ocean heat has reached near record-levels and sea levels have reached an all-time high.

TIME energy

Gas Prices to Drop Below $3 for First Time in Years

Exxon Mobil Corp. Gas Stations Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Gas prices are displayed as a customer fuels a vehicle at a Mobil gas station in Peoria, Illinois, U.S., on Oct. 29, 2014. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Saving drivers hundreds of millions of dollars per day

That weekend road trip is starting to look pretty affordable.

For the first time in nearly four years, the national average price of gas is set to drop below $3.00 per gallon, according to American Automobile Association. At that rate, the AAA estimates the lower prices are helping consumers save $250 million per day compared to the days of summer when prices averaged a hefty $3.68 per gallon.

“Consumers are experiencing ‘sticker delight’ as gas prices unexpectedly drop below $3.00 in much of the country,” said Bob Darbelnet, CEO of AAA. “Lower gas prices are a boon to the economy just in time for holiday travel and shopping.”

The fall in prices, according to the AAA, ends a streak of 1,409 days in which prices remained above $3 per gallon, averaging $3.52 per gallon and as high as $3.98 per gallon during that 46-month period. Prices on Friday averaged $3 per gallon, down 6 cents from a week ago.

Prices – which vary by region depending on the taxes imposed – have already dropped below $3 in 60% of all U.S. stations with at least one in every state offering cheaper fuel, the AAA said.

“It has certainly been a long time coming – the decline in gas prices has lasted basically since late June, and could continue even further if oil prices can break through and close under” $79 per barrel, according to a blog post by Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com, which found 35 states have already hit new lows in prices for 2014 and that 21 now feature prices under $3.

Cheaper gas prices are mostly the result of oil prices, which has fallen dramatically the past few months.

Concerns about oversupply in the markets are driving the decline. Brent – the global benchmark – sank to its lowest level since November 2010 earlier this month at $83.47 a barrel. Some of the decline is due to supply glut driven by increased American production, but also from more pumping in Libya and Iraq.

Prices have recovered slightly and Brent was trading Friday at $85.01 a barrel, down $1.23 or 1.4%.

This week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration had predicted that prices would fall below $3 soon.

The AAA predicted lower prices should carry through the holidays because of lower demand and typical seasonal trends. However, prices may begin to creep up in the spring from refinery maintenance, increased demand and a return to a more expensive blend of gasoline used in the summer.

“Paying less than $3 for gas is a welcome holiday gift that may not last nearly as long as many would hope,” Darbelnet said. “It is possible that lower gas prices will soon be a faded memory, so enjoy it while you can. The days of paying more than $3 per gallon for gas have regrettably not gone away.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY Gas

Gas Prices Will Dip Below $3 Nationally This Weekend

Woman filling gas tank
Image Source—Getty Images

It's been nearly four years since the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline started with a $2. But on Saturday, we'll drop below the $3 mark.

That’s according to AAA, which measured the national average at a flat $3 (actually $3.003) as of Friday, and forecasts that the run of 1,400+ days of $3+ gasoline will end as of Saturday, November 1, 2014. The last time the price of a gallon of regular gas was under $3 nationally was December 2010.

Gas prices have been dropping roughly 1¢ per day lately, and the national average right now is about 70¢ less than the high for 2014, reached in spring. AAA notes that after the steady autumn decline in prices at the pump, more than 6 out of 10 U.S. gas stations are already selling gasoline starting under the $3 mark.

Like the Dow hitting 17,000, the fact that gas prices are dropping below the $3 milestone may sound impressive, but when viewed clinically and dispassionately, it’s not that big of a deal—a tiny incremental shift that’s part of a larger trend, not some big and sudden change—and it probably shouldn’t cause you to alter your behavior in the slightest. Sure, there’s a subconscious mental bump consumers get when gas prices start with the number $2, and perhaps some dollar stores and discount chains will benefit during the holiday season because low-income consumers will be able to spend a little more freely because the cost of fueling up is down. And yes, retailers and the economy in general will fare better when gas prices are in the $3 vicinity rather than the $4 or $5 range.

Overall, however, the effect on the economy of decreasing gas prices—even gas prices dropping below $3—is expected to be minimal, due in part because few anticipate fuel costs staying at such depressed rates for long. “Paying less than $3.00 for gas is a welcome holiday gift that may not last nearly as long as many would hope,” Bob Darbelnet, CEO of AAA, said via press release. “It is possible that lower gas prices will soon be a faded memory, so enjoy it while you can. The days of paying more than $3.00 per gallon for gas have regrettably not gone away.”

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