According to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), California now has the highest gas prices in the continental U.S. On Tuesday, she wrote to the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission to ask for an investigation into why that is the case. Here are the details.
* Californians have faced rapid price increases -- 30 cents per gallon -- since Aug. 6, the senator stated. These increases are more than double the national average over the same time period.
* On Aug. 6, a fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., resulted in reduced refining capacity. However, Feinstein pointed out, the incident did not result in a reduction of gasoline supply that would justify a price increase. In fact, she stated, the state's refineries were producing six million barrels of gasoline per week before the fire and were nearing 6.8 million barrels for the week after the fire.
* According to Feinstein, gasoline sales in California have fallen from 2006 levels of 8.5 million gallons per day to 4.9 million gallons per day this year. California has been exporting fuel and refineries have been operating well below their capacity, the senator stated.
* Despite the excess in capacity, California's gasoline prices remain consistently higher than other western states. The senator reported that gasoline was 14 cents more expensive per gallon than other western states in 2006 and is now 26 cents per gallon higher.
* Feinstein points to a 2009 Government Accountability Office analysis that revealed higher wholesale gasoline prices in highly concentrated areas such as San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. "This study suggests that refineries and fuel marketers in California have accumulated the market power necessary to move prices and maximize profits at the expense of California's consumers," she stated.
* The senator asserts that high gasoline prices are "contributing to significant economic pain" and are jeopardizing the state's economic recovery. According to Feinstein, a report by the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business stated that every penny increase in gas results in a billion dollars being pulled from the U.S. economy each year.
* The Federal Trade Commission prohibits a single actor or a few collusive actors from setting the market price, Feinstein stated, which is why the senator wants the commission to investigate the prices in California.
* On Monday, the Associated Press reported that U.S. gas prices have risen by an average of 7 cents over the past two weeks. The average price of a gallon of regular costs $3.76. In California, the senator reported, gasoline was averaging $4.09. However, according to Feinstein, the price of gas in the state has reached $4.21 per gallon.