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State shifts gears on gas prices

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Sun, Jun 24, 2007 at 5:25 pm

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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

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