Take heart, Spokane and Eastern Washington. When it comes to cheap-gas bragging rights in Washington, you're losing some battles but winning the war.
After months of number-crunching, the findings of a new state gas-price study released by Attorney General Rob McKenna Thursday include this startling sentence:
Among Washington's 39 counties this year, "Spokane County has the lowest average retail prices, more than 14 cents per gallon below the state average."
In fact, the 10 counties with the lowest average retail gas prices in 2007 are all in Eastern Washington.
"Of these, the lowest prices were found in the counties bordering Idaho – Asotin, Whitman, Spokane and Pend Oreille," says the study, compiled by state officials and University of Washington economist Keith Leffler.
The highest average prices in the state? In Western Washington, particularly in Bellevue, Bellingham and island-heavy San Juan County.
The last time the state did a study like this – a 1991 report by the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development – it found that gas prices tended to be lower in Seattle than in Eastern Washington. (WARNING: Click on that link only if you're really interested -- and then go get a cup of coffee while it loads. It's a 65-meg pdf download.)
"That is no longer the case," the new report says.
What? How can that be, when AAA's daily price survey on Thursday indicated that Spokanites were forking over an average of $2.93 a gallon for regular, while westsiders were topping off their tanks at $2.80? And what about last summer, when the disparity grew so bad in Spokane that Sen. Maria Cantwell called for – and got – a federal investigation?
Temporary market anomalies, the new state report suggests. For years now, Spokane gas prices have been averaging 5 cents to 10 cents below Seattle's. And while last summer's Spokane prices peaked at more than 18 cents a gallon above Seattle's, the report notes that "By January 2007, the Spokane prices were nearly 30 cents below those in Seattle."
Even a month ago, gas in Spokane remained a relative bargain, 4 cents cheaper than Seattle, 8 cents cheaper than Yakima and nearly 12 cents cheaper than Bellingham. (Coeur d'Alene's cheaper yet: an average of 11 cents cheaper than Spokane on Thursday.)