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State shifts gears on gas prices

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Sun, Jun 24, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    State shifts gears on gas prices

    Pasadena Star-News (California)
    June 24, 2007

    by Steve Geissinger Sacramento Bureau

    State shifts gears on gas prices

    California is getting poor political mileage out of its latest
    outcry over gasoline price spikes again, but everyone from politicians to activists are subtly shifting gears this time to end impotence on the painful problem.

    Experts say it’s a slow process and on the surface, the uproar
    over record-setting gas prices appears to be just prompting an annual
    rerun of protests.

    The governor and lawmakers are making speeches, hearing from advocacy groups and conducting studies.

    Oil companies are dismissing price-gouging allegations, citing market conditions.

    But the Assembly approved bills addressing the situation Thursday, though supporters called them modest.

    In another departure, politicians haven’t launched
    attention-grabbing, pressure-easing probes. None in the past has turned
    up wrongdoing.

    Instead, there are solid stirrings nationally as the gas-cost issue touches much of the nation.

    "All it would take is a whole nation joining California in a
    scream of outrage," said Judy Dugan of Santa Monica-based Foundation
    for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

    Consumer groups are applauding Congress for considering
    legislation regarding alternative fuels and price gouging by foreign
    nations.

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is talking about a long-term
    solution tied to the fight against global warming, though that hasn’t
    satisfied his harshest critics, who have signed petitions urging him to
    call a special legislative session.

    Clashes of the moment run even to fuel expansion due to heat, which consumer advocates said cheats customers.

    Activists are comparing gas prices — now upwards of $3 per
    gallon — to the electricity crisis that brought down the governor’s
    predecessor and cite the oil industry’s large campaign contributions to
    Schwarzenegger.

    Motorists don’t just feel gouged when they go to the pump, some
    of the poorest also are having to cut back essentials such as food as
    prices increase due to higher transportation costs.

    But gas industry representatives said dozens of probes have
    found no attempt to manipulate the market, which depends on a variety
    of factors such as a limited supply for California, spiking demand and
    refinery outages.

    On the other hand, Jamie Court, of the Foundation for Taxpayer
    and Consumer Rights, said the industry has "deliberately restricted
    California’s gasoline supply, to the point that any unanticipated
    refinery outage boosts gas prices more than enough to make up for
    refiners’ loss of sales."

    Consumer groups praised legislation approved Thursday by the Democrat-dominated state Assembly, but characterized it as modest.

    The bills, AB 1610 and AB 1552, would boost oversight of oil refiners and study industry practices.

    The debate sounded like many between the political parties on
    other issues, with Democrats wanting to impose more rules on the oil
    industry and Republicans arguing government should not tinker with the
    marketplace.

    Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu ez, D-Los Angeles, said the gas-cost
    crisis comes down to "picking a side" because "you stand with the oil
    companies or you stand with consumers."

    Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, said the bills would "not
    result in any new supply" or "any new infrastructure that would provide
    fuel to Californians."

    A third bill would study the issue of fuel expanding when temperatures rise.

    Most prices assume gas is pumped at 60 degrees. California motorists could be overpaying in hotter temperatures.

    The bills face uncertain futures in the Senate and before the governor.

    Schwarzenegger’s efforts center on a long-term fight against
    global warming, in which he is seeking a 10 percent reduction of carbon
    in vehicle fuels by 2020. Greenhouse gas emission reduction in gas
    would cut the cost, according to a University of California study he
    released.

    "The only way to truly affect gas prices is to reduce our
    dependence on traditional, petroleum-based foreign oil, and Gov.
    Schwarzenegger is helping to do that by establishing a low carbon fuel
    standard," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the governor.

    Contact the author at: sgeissinger@angnewspapers.com or (916) 447-9302