“Explain to me the economics of this and why a logging company in Maine is even cutting anymore,” a friend of mine asked me the other day, together with a screen shot of his latest fill-up at the pump for nearly $600. His fuel bill for the previous week was more than four times that.

At such times, I wish I had something smart to say. I’m not an economist, but I do remember the last time Americans were this angry about the high price of gas. It was 22 years ago, and Republicans rode that frustration right into the White House when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore who, in his book “Earth in the Balance,” called the gasoline-burning engine “a threat to the security of every nation.”

Around that time, I remember fielding a call from an angry man in Portland who demanded that United States military go “over there” (to the Middle East) and seize all their oil. Little did that man know, within a year the U.S. government would act on the first half of his recommendation.

Before that, there were the gas shortages of the 1970s, which a few of us are old enough to remember – if only barely.

Here in Maine, we are especially vulnerable to high fuel prices. From heating our homes to fueling our vehicles, we feel the pinch harder than many others in America. This is before we even discuss our $6.5 billion tourism industry, accounting for over 100,000 jobs in the state. If gas prices stay as high as they are today, that, too, will take a hit in a couple of months.

Farmers will soon be sowing their fields, and fishermen will be fueling their boats in greater numbers. Even if gas prices level off in early 2023, as some have predicted, there is a good deal of pain between now and then.

Not wholly deaf to these concerns, President Joe Biden has recently pledged to “work like the devil (whatever that means) to bring gas prices down.” As he hopefully understands, sheer empathy is not enough.

What the government can do in the short term is limited. Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which Biden authorized late last year, had no effect and diminished a stockpile meant for other purposes. Anyone who understands how energy markets work could have told him that, but often Washington is more interested in looking like it’s doing something than actually doing something.

Opening up land for exploration downstream, and approving refinery licenses and pipeline construction upstream are two things a government truly interested in moving the dial on gas prices could do today. It is unlikely that this administration will do either. In fact they’ve done the exact opposite in their first year.

Governments might consider temporary relief on excise taxes at the pump. After all, Gov. Janet Mills announced a surplus in her annual address last week. But again, this is pie-in-the-sky thinking. Or is it?

Two of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate – Arizona’s Mark Kelly and New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan — recently proposed temporary relief of the federal share of the gas tax, which is by far the largest.

High gas prices are, in effect, a regressive tax that hits small-scale loggers, and small business people across the board, the hardest. Airy talk about the climate, hybrids and the long-promised demise of the fossil fuel-burning engine doesn’t help these people much. Inflationary pressures hurt those least able to bear them.

How much of all these massive stimulus packages we’ve seen in recent years has been allocated to this kind of relief? We don’t need the devil, but we do need people in government who understand these priorities matter, too.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.