Fact Check | Ernst says gas prices are rising under Biden; they were going up under Trump, too

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst wrote in her newsletter that gas prices have been increasing since President Joe Biden took office and it isn’t strictly related to the recent Russia-Ukraine conflict. Ernst left out, though, that prices started rising under Trump, and industry analysts say killing the pipeline has not affected gas prices.


Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

PolitiFact Iowa is a project of The Daily Iowan’s Ethics & Politics Initiative and PolitiFact to help you find the truth in politics.

If your time is short: 

  • Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, AAA, and the West Texas Intermediate grade crude oil cost show upwards trends for gasoline prices since April 2020, since Joe Biden became president but also before he was in office. 
  • Gas prices began to rise during Donald Trump’s presidency when demand for fuel increased as people drove more after COVID-related restrictions were eased.
  • The planned Keystone XL oil pipeline never was operational because it wasn’t built. Rather, oil companies slowed down production, leading to gasoline price increases, industry analysts said.

Americans have shared plenty of complaints about gas price increases and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is among them. Ernst, R-Iowa, opened a March 19 newsletter email blast claiming gas prices have continued to rise since President Joe Biden’s first day in office back in January 2021:

“President Biden wants Iowans and Americans to believe that skyrocketing prices at the pump are all Vladimir Putin’s fault — but gas prices have been going up since the president’s first day in office, starting with his move to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline.”

U.S. gas prices have risen under Biden, data shows, but Ernst’s claim suggests that Biden’s policies and his action on Keystone were a driving factor. Yet, gas prices already were on the rise before he took office, due, energy analysts say, to a change in demand following the easing of pandemic restrictions. Meanwhile,  the sharpest increases at the pump have come since the start of war in Ukraine. 

PolitiFact reported in December that there is no evidence that Biden’s canceling of the Keystone XL oil pipeline caused an increase in U.S. gas prices. 

The Pew Research Center found in spring 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic dropped the average retail gas price by 27% from late February to late April. Gasoline demand was down considerably during many stages of the pandemic. As people returned to more normal daily activities demand — and prices —went up.

In an email to PolitiFact Iowa, Ernst spokesperson Brendan Conley wrote that regular gas was priced at $2.36 per gallon during Biden’s first day in office. During the fourth week of March 2022, the prices were $4.24, Conley wrote. 

Conley wrote that Ernst used U.S. Energy Information Administration data to back her claim. “As the senator was pointing out in the newsletter, the increase in gas prices was happening well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he wrote.

That’s accurate as far as it goes, but it ignores that the data from the Energy Information Administration shows an increasing trend since April 2020, when gas prices dipped to a low of $1.77 per gallon. That was nine months before Biden took office.

West Texas Intermediate grade crude oil reflects a similar trend, with prices increasing from $16.94 per barrel on April 19, 2020, to $110.94 on March 20, 2022. These costs are paid before the oil is refined into gasoline.

While the cost has dipped slightly at certain times — including in November 2020 and August and November 2021 — the overall trends have been up. In the past year, the low price per crude oil barrel has been $57.63. The high reached $130.50. 

AAA found that March 11 was the highest recorded average retail price for gas in the U.S., at $4.33 per gallon of regular unleaded fuel. Diesel reached $5.14 at its peak on March 12.

Iowa’s average cost per gallon was $3.88 on March 24, according to AAA. The state had the seventh lowest average gasoline cost then, the association said.

On July 14, 2008, gas reached its most recent peak prior to 2022 at $4.11, Energy Information Administration data show. 

PolitiFact previously reported a broad expert consensus that gas prices are not high as a result of  of any U.S. shutdown of oil production under the Biden administration. Oil production is on par with production levels during former President Donald Trump’s term. 

PolitiFact also has reported that claiming the most recent, and most severe, spike in gas prices is largely due to Putin and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

Our ruling

Ernst said that “gas prices have been going up since the president’s first day in office, starting with his move to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline.”

She has a point that gas prices, as well as crude oil prices, have been on an upward trajectory for essentially all of Biden’s tenure.

However, she ignores that prices started to rise when Trump was president, which experts say stemmed from increased demand for fuel after COVID restrictions eased. Gas prices did not simply turn upward on a dime after Biden took office or after he canceled the Keystone XL pipeline.

We rate the statement Half True.  


AAA, national average gas prices

Analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration

MarketWatch, Crude Oil WTI

Brendan Conley, Sen. Joni Ernst campaign staffer, email exchanges with PolitiFact Iowa

Newsletter from U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst March 19, 2022

Pew Research Center, “Gasoline costs more these days, but price spikes have a long history and happen for a host of reasons,” by Drew Desilver; Dec. 9, 2021

PolitiFact, “‘Gas is high because they shut down production in the U.S.’ under the Biden administration,” by Jeff Cercone; March 9, 2022

PolitiFact, “Low gas prices in Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia show that Joe Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone Pipeline project is to blame for U.S. prices,” by Tom Kertscher; Dec. 1, 2021.

PolitiFact, “‘Make no mistake: The current spike in gas prices is largely the fault of Vladimir Putin,’” by Louis Jacobson; March 16, 2022

The New York Times, “Rising Gas Prices Have Drivers Asking, ‘Is This for Real?’” by Michael Corkery, Emma Goldberg and Erin Woo; March 8, 2022

Keystone XL pipeline web page