October 29, 2005 in Idaho

Gas price puzzler: Idaho 4th highest

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 

BOISE – Idaho’s gas prices are the fourth-highest in the nation, and people are starting to wonder why.

“To a lot of Idahoans, it looks like there’s price-gouging going on, but we need to find out, we need to receive some explanations,” said Deputy Attorney General Brett DeLange. That’s why Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has joined Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and 41 of their colleagues from across the nation demanding answers from oil companies, distributors and retailers.

“You have a hurricane, and all of a sudden gas prices throughout the whole country skyrocket,” DeLange said. “You have quarterly reports coming in now from the oil companies like Exxon reporting $9.9 billion in profits for a single quarter. It’s the largest quarterly profit of any company in the history of American corporations.”

Nationally, the price for a gallon of self-serve regular gas on Friday stood at $2.55, according to the American Automobile Association’s “Fuel Gauge” data. Idaho’s average was $2.74, with only California, Nevada and Alaska posting higher prices. Washington, at $2.713, was sixth-highest.

The lowest price was in Oklahoma, where it’s $2.20 per gallon.

The Northwest normally has some of the nation’s highest gas prices, said Dave Overstreet of AAA Washington/Inland, mainly because of the location of most of the nation’s refining capacity and the costs of getting gas out to the West Coast. But, he said, “it surprises me that Idaho’s that high.”

Idaho’s gas tax is 25 cents a gallon, while Washington’s is 31 cents. Typically, that helps keep Idaho gas prices lower than Washington’s, Overstreet said.

Dave Carlson of AAA Idaho noted that gas prices across the country fell by 33 cents a gallon in the past three weeks, but Idaho’s prices dropped less than half that amount.

“Clearly, the market is moving on lower crude oil and gasoline futures prices, reflecting lower demand and growing gasoline inventories,” Carlson said. “But for whatever reasons, Idaho’s pump prices are now fourth highest in the country and seem resistant to the kinds of declines we’ve seen elsewhere.”

He also noted “a large and puzzling range” of gas prices within the state. On Friday, for example, AAA’s “Fuel Price Finder” reported the average price of a gallon of unleaded gas in Coeur d’Alene was $2.56, while Kellogg was at $2.87, Lewiston at $2.68 and Boise at $2.73. Moscow averaged $2.71, and gas was $2.78 in East Hope.

Spokane was at $2.69 a gallon.

“The No. 1 thing that we’ve been urging people to do is to conserve, to cut down on the use of the product,” Overstreet said. “One of the biggest factors in the price is the demand, and if you reduce the demand for the product the price is going to come down.”

That’s usually what happens this time of year anyway, he said, as people stop taking as many driving trips after Labor Day. To cut back further, he suggested keeping vehicles tuned up; ensuring adequate tire pressure, and keeping speed down. “Miles per gallon start to go down significantly over about 50 to 55 mph,” Overstreet said. “So if people went 60 out on the freeway instead of 70 and slowed down a little bit, they would save money.”

DeLange said Idaho, like much of the West, historically has had gas prices above the national average. But current prices are raising questions.

“It’s not just the attorneys general – Congress is calling for bipartisan hearings to try to understand these monumental price increases that seem to be reflected in these higher profits by all the oil companies,” DeLange said.

Data that’s come back so far in response the inquiries is still being analyzed, DeLange said, and it’s not yet clear where in the market chain the run-up in prices is being sparked.

“No one’s saying you should not be able to make a profit, but the attorney general’s view is Idahoans are entitled to know if they’re being gouged,” he said.

A year ago, gas cost an average of $2.08 a gallon in Idaho.

Overstreet expects Idaho’s prices to drop some, but said overall gas prices are hard to predict. “I don’t think there’s anybody that thinks they’re ever going to go down below about $2.50 a gallon again,” he said.


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