You could hardly blame President Barack Obama if, in his penultimate State of the Union, he took credit for gas prices dropping below $2.00. After all, it’s perhaps the main reason his poll numbers are climbing back toward 50 percent. But on Tuesday night, he chose to play down the good news—for good reason.

"We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet," he said. "And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump."

Low gas prices pose a tricky dilemma for the White House. Obama can’t take responsibility for it, and he knows it. Instead, gas prices have dropped to their lowest level in nearly six years due to the economics of global supply and demand for crude oil. As demand has weakened in Europe and developing countries, U.S. oil production is at its highest level in 30 years and is expected to overtake Saudi Arabia. And the oil cartel OPEC hasn’t cut supply in response to these trends, which has led to an oversupply of oil, driving prices down. 

Gas Buddy

Low gas prices isn’t entirely good news, either. Nothing's permanent, and Obama is careful to remind Americans of that. Eventually oil supply will correct course, demand will rise, and gas prices will rise again. Recently, he discussed gas prices with this caveat: “I would strongly advise American consumers to continue to think about how you save money at the pump because it is good for the environment, it’s good for family pocketbooks and if you go back to old habits and suddenly gas is back at $3.50, you are going to not be real happy. The American people should not believe that ... demand for oil by China and India and all these emerging countries is going to stay flat. Just demographics tell us demand is going to continue to grow, that over the long term it will grow faster than supply and we have to be smart about our energy policy.”

So when Obama cited low gas prices tonight, he mentioned them along with something he can take credit for: fuel economy standards. More efficient vehicles will pay dividends for much longer than this temporary dip in gas prices.