EDITORIAL: Plunging oil prices are good for us, bad for Putin

Plunging gas prices are a gift in more ways than one.

They mean more cash in people’s pockets during the holiday shopping season, so hopefully local retail will get a boost. They will soften the blow next month for any price spike when fuels come under California’s cap-and-trade system to combat climate change.

And, in an added bonus, plummeting oil prices are putting a big hurt on Vladimir Putin — and could curb his aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Oil was trading for $100-plus a barrel when Russia first sent soldiers into Ukraine in March. Tuesday, a global benchmark crude traded at under $60 a barrel for the first time in five years. On Wednesday, a barrel of crude was selling for $58.30.

Russia’s economy relies heavily on oil revenue and is already hurting under sanctions from the United States and Europe.

The ruble lost 10% of its value against the dollar just on Monday.

Tuesday, the Bank of Russia raised interest rates from 10.5% to 17% — a desperate, but apparently futile, move to try to stop the run on the ruble.

A more docile Putin can’t come soon enough.

At least 4,700 people have died in Ukraine during the armed conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists backed by the Kremlin, a United Nations team said Monday. About 30% of those casualties have come since a supposed “cease-fire” took effect in September.

Officials in the West must be wary that, like a cornered animal, Putin will lash out, or at least try to distract Russians from the economic crisis. There are other former Soviet republics to threaten.

All the geopolitical ramifications aside, it’s just nice to be able to fill up for less than $50. In fact, drivers of high-mileage commuter cars with small gas tanks are filling up for less than $30.

In the Fresno area, the average pump price is below $2.80 a gallon, down about 75 cents from a year ago. Some stations in Madera were selling regular for $2.37 a gallon Wednesday.

Nationwide, the average is $2.49 a gallon; in 13 states, motorists can find gas for less than $2.

Every day, Americans are saving some $270 million compared to a year ago. These savings are pumping up the economy as people spend less on gas and more on the other items that they need.

We’d best enjoy it while we can. Oil prices are volatile, so we could soon be complaining at the pump, again.