Stephen Schork, whose Schork Report keeps tabs on the energy market, disagrees with Chilton and Andrews that speculation is driving energy prices up. Still, he said, the impact of rising prices is real.
“Speculators are a symptom of events; they are not the cause of those events,” he said. “At the current pace, we calculate that per-person energy costs will top $5,000 this year.” Schork says that is up about $1,400 from 2009, and amounts to a $1,400 tax on the consumer. “That’s $1,400 that cannot be spent elsewhere in the economy — and that is not good for anyone,” he said.
Comments like this one, from Royal Palm Beach, Fla., barber Joseph Murratti Sr., are peppering the House Small Business Administration's Facebook page .
“The increase in the price of gas REALLY hurt my barbershop business here in Royal Palm Beach,” he wrote. “Many of my customers ... would have $100 to fill up their tanks with gas ... get a haircut & buy a lunch or two. NOW, they are lucky to just barely fill up the tank, so that means they put off the haircut for a couple of weeks. My income has been cut by a minimum of 40 percent.”
David Lesak, owner of Kasel Rocks Landscape in Allentown, Pa., wrote on the House Facebook page: “Our season started off extremely well, the best we have had. We were ready to hire an additional crew of three. ... Then gasoline prices started to increase, business started to fall off and we decided we could not afford a second crew. ... Within two weeks we were barely able to keep one crew working.”
The solution, of course, is to pass the price increase along to clients. “We are charging our customers $10 more for our cleaning services to cover the rising cost of gas,” the owner of a cleaning service in the affluent area of northern New Jersey told CNBC.com. “Some of our clients understand, but they, too, are feeling the strain.”
And the solution to that, says Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Small Business Committee, is to “open up safe exploration and development to our domestic energy resources.”
“U.S. small businesses want lower fuel prices now," he said in a statement. "It is up to Washington to put aside political pandering to special interests. If we don’t, small businesses will suffer, and our recovery will be delayed.”
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, expressed his frustration on rising energy costs with Energy Secretary Steven Chu at a subcommittee hearing on March 8.
Upton said his committee recognizes that rising gasoline prices are a burden on families and small businesses, “Simply put, energy is a jobs issue. We need affordable energy to fuel our economy. We’re working toward solutions to increase North American oil supplies and reduce regulations.”
But with a dysfunctional Congress, one business owner told CNBC.com he has little hope that Congress can come together to create an energy policy to avoid future price spikes.
“Energy prices have been politicized once again, and the small business owners are taking it on the chin,” said Steven Leyva, CEO of Gluten Free Crusader and owner of New Jersey-based Sugar Flake Bakeries. “This is not the first time we have weathered this energy price storm and I’m sure we’ll face it again."
Email us at SmallBiz@cnbc.com
Follow us on Twitter @SmallBizCNBC