State looks at gas price cap
DEWEESE; The News Tribune
Olympia, WA - 3/15/03 - You can blame Washington's soaring gasoline
prices on supply and demand, but there's no evidence of price gouging,
according to the state Attorney General's Office.
And even if retailers were fixing prices, Washington doesn't have
an anti-gouging law, said David Huey, an assistant attorney general
in the agency's consumer protection division.
Huey joined oil industry experts and a representative of AAA during
two briefings this week before the House energy committee, which wanted
to know why prices are so high and what can be done about it.
The House may push through legislation preventing retailers from taking
advantage of a war in Iraq or a terrorist attack to charge unfair
gas prices, Rep. Jeff Morris (D-Anacortes) said.
The measure would be modeled after a bill offered a year ago that
would allow the governor to declare emergency price caps on essential
goods like oil, food or medical supplies. In addition, retailers who
boost prices by more than 15 percent - without proof that it's necessary
- would face stiff civil fines.
The antigouging bill passed in the House but died in the Senate.
The average price statewide for regular unleaded has risen more than
40 cents per gallon in the past 30 days to $1.86 on Friday, according
to AAA, which tracks gas prices nationally.
Retail prices have less to do with rising costs than how a possible
war in Iraq and unrest in U.S.-supplier Venezuela have driven up crude
oil costs, said Anita Mangels with the Western States Petroleum Association.
The association represents the oil industry in six Western states.
"Crude oil has more than doubled in price. It's one of those
unfortunate global market factors we all have to deal with,"
The cost of refining oil is also more expensive in the West, Mangels
said. Washington's five refineries must rely on Alaskan crude oil
while the more plentiful East Coast refineries can get their supplies
from either Texas or Middle Eastern oil, she said.
Mangels recommended that legislators streamline the zoning and permitting
process for new gas stations. Only 20 percent of Washington stations
are directly owned by oil companies. Mangels said streamlined legislation
would boost small franchise owners and help consumers through increased
Increased retailers can't make a difference if oil companies artificially
drive up prices, Tim Hamilton with the Automotive United Trades Organization
said. He represents service station owners.
Hamilton noted that last year's antigouging bill targeted retailers.
But he questioned why the measure didn't address the failure of oil
companies to increase refinery output or buy more oil from the Middle
Hamilton recommended that the state set aside tax dollars for an oil
reserve the governor could order released if prices went above a set
House Commerce and Labor Chairman Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) is worried
not just about price hikes due to a possible Iraq war but also about
why West Coast prices are higher than in the East.
"We're at the time of the year when oil prices should be at their
lowest," Conway said.
John DeWeese: 360-943-7123
Yet another Tacoma record
Tacoma's average price for unleaded gasoline rose slightly Friday
to another record, $1.82 per gallon, AAA said. In the past two weeks,
the former highest price of $1.72, set in 2000, has repeatedly been
topped. Current average prices: