U.S. gas prices dip just below $4 for the first time in 5 months

LOS ANGELES, CA-JUNE 1, 2022: A screen shows a purchase of just over 1and 1/4 gallons of gas came out to ten dollars because the price of gasoline is almost $8 a gallon at the Chevron gas station located at the intersection of Cesar. E. Chavez Ave. and Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Motorists in California and Hawaii are still paying above $5 for gas, and other states in the West are paying close to that. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Gasoline prices dipped to just under the $4 mark for the first time in more than five months — good news for consumers who are struggling with high prices for many other essentials.

AAA said the national average for a gallon of regular was $3.99 on Thursday.

Prices have dropped 15 cents in the past week and 68 cents in the last month, according to the auto club.

The shopping app GasBuddy reported that the national average was already down to $3.98 on Wednesday.

However, motorists in California and Hawaii are still paying above $5, and other states in the West are paying close to that. The cheapest gas is in Texas and several other states in the South and Midwest.

Falling prices for gas, airline tickets and clothes are giving consumers a bit of relief, although inflation is still close to a four-decade high.

Oil prices began rising in mid-2020 as economies recovered from the initial shock of the pandemic. They rose again when the U.S. and allies announced sanctions against Russian oil over Russia's war against Ukraine.

Recently, however, oil prices have dropped on concern about slowing economic growth around the world. And high prices may be causing U.S. motorists to drive less. Gasoline demand in early August was down 3.3% from the same week last year after tracking more closely to 2021 numbers earlier in the summer.

Prices at the pump are likely to be a major issue heading into the midterm elections in November.

Republicans blame President Biden for the high gasoline prices, seizing on his decisions to cancel a permit for a major pipeline and suspend new oil and gas leases on federal lands.

Biden said over the weekend that a family with two cars is saving $100 a month because prices have dropped from their peak in mid-June.

“That's breathing room,” he tweeted. “And we're not letting up any time soon.”

Biden has also sparred with oil companies, accusing them of not producing as much oil and gasoline as they could while posting huge profits. “Exxon made more money than God this year,” he said in June.

Exxon said it has increased oil production. The CEO of Chevron said Biden was trying to vilify his industry.

The nationwide average for gas hasn't been under $4 since early March. Prices topped out at $5.02 a gallon on June 14, according to AAA. They declined slowly the rest of June, then began dropping more rapidly.

A year ago, the nationwide average price was around $3.20 a gallon.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.