It wasn’t too long ago when gasoline here and nationwide was more than $4 a gallon and tourism agencies were handing out gas cards to offset fuel costs and entice out-of-towners to visit.
Things sure have changed.
Pump prices, despite the gradual bump in recent weeks, remain far lower than that historic figure, hovering below $3. Out-of-staters are no longer deterred from driving or flying to Florida for business or pleasure. And it’s paying headline-making dividends.
According to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, more people visited South Florida last year than ever before: 16.5 million-plus. Add the 6.8 million day-trippers who made the journey and the number jumps to 23.3 million.
This news followed a similar report from another tourism agency, VISIT FLORIDA, which said the Sunshine State drew 126.1 million visitors in 2018, also an all-time record. The pace has only accelerated this year: Per Gov. Ron DeSantis, 35.7 million people visited between January and March this year, a historic high.
Many factors sparked these historic crowds, none more consumer-friendly than the sweeping reduction in fuel costs, courtesy of record expansions in energy production and its adjoining infrastructure nationwide.
The U.S. is in the midst of an energy renaissance, and its new standing as the global leader in oil and natural gas production couldn’t be more evident. The returns 0n investments have been infinite, fiscally and environmentally.
The national and state economy is stronger than it has been in decades. Wages have inched up. So has disposable income. Job growth is climbing fast, and unemployment is at historic lows. Theme parks, beachfronts and other vacation hotspots are jam-packed, thanks largely to domestic surges in oil and natural gas -- which have steadied the supply-and-demand equation and allowed more vacationers to travel here for less.
It has also lowered household energy expenses and helped families afford other necessities including housing, groceries and medications. Families that could not afford a vacation before have a better chance now.
That’s because, while burdensome for most, higher energy expenses are especially challenging for lower-income families and those in poverty who already see a dangerously large percent of their income go toward energy costs. The poorest households in Florida can shell out as much as 50 percent of their take-home pay on transportation, energy and fuel costs, far more than the 6 percent most economists recommend.
More energy here has allowed utilities, fuel companies and energy providers more of the options they need to offer reliable and affordable energy to residents and the millions of tourists who visit.
And thanks to safer, state-of-the-art energy technologies, backed by the stringent regulations globally, the U.S. continues to cut greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, it reduced carbon emissions more than any other major country.
We must learn from our $4-for-gas from years ago and our $2-something of today by continuing to push forward with what works: energy development and expansion that keeps bills lower and our environment and shoreline cleaner -- for all residents and industries, including fishing and the thousands of businesses that depend on a flourishing tourism sector to stay afloat.
Kevin Doyle is the Florida director, Consumer Energy Alliance.