Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard wants to know why Valley gas prices are more than 30 cents higher than what the average U.S. consumer is paying.
Goddard said his office has been flooded with calls about potential price gouging as local pump prices soared to $2 or more and did not fall when the supposed problems were remedied. His office is conducting “an ongoing inquiry,” but is hampered by lack of an anti-gouging law, Goddard said.
“The only weapon we have is conspiracy or restraint of trade,” he said. Those charges are more difficult and time-consuming to prove, he said.
Goddard said gas prices should have fallen in the last week after the mid-March spike blamed on the high price of crude oil and a couple of refineries out of service as they switched production to cleaner-burning summer fuel. Maricopa County gas stations are required to dispense cleaner-burning fuel from April 1 to Oct. 31.
Since then, crude prices fell and as Valley gas stations switched to the costlier summer blend of gas, pump prices Tuesday stayed the same or dipped only slightly. “I expected a more significant decrease,” Goddard said. “This is a reason for great concern.”
Goddard said he has no reasonable explanation for the disparity between prices in Arizona and the rest of the country. And he said it’s curious that discounters and oil company-owned stations are often selling gas at the same price. He said his office is “very involved” in finding out what’s driving local prices, but he is unlikely to have any quick answers — or relief — for consumers.
To compensate for his rapidly rising gas costs, Matt Hill of Scottsdale switched to a lower grade of gasoline and still had to surcharge of his courier service to make a living.
“Even after switching grades, it’s still still more than what I was used to paying,” Hill said Tuesday as he filled up his van, ringing up a $35 tab for three-quarters of a tank of unleaded regular. Hill said he fuels up whenever he sees a relatively lower price.
Teresa Chamberlain of Scottsdale is doing “less traveling, more car-pooling.” She tries to combine trips to do errands and skip unnecessary ones.
Pam Volden of Chandler is driving her car more and her sport utility vehicle less. Others, such as Antonio Galvan of Ahwatukee Foothills, a subcontractor who needs his truck for his business, just give up and gas up.
“I see the high prices, but I don’t pay much attention to them,” Galvan said. “I live the same as I did before.”
Prices that are hovering instead of rising are little comfort to local motorists, who are paying an average $1.98 per gallon for unleaded regular, 43 percent more than the $1.38 per gallon average price in April 2002.
And it could get worse. AAA Arizona spokeswoman Yvette Lopez said the war, the shortage of gas supplies and crude oil, the switch to the pricier blend and the increased demand for gas in summer could lead to even higher prices in coming weeks and months.
“Pricing will remain volatile throughout the war,” Lopez said.
Motorists can save money by following Volden and Chamberlain’s lead — combining trips and using more fuel-efficient vehicles. Other tips include driving slower and filling up in the evening or early morning.
“Cooler temperatures keep gas at its densest,” Lopez said. “So you get more gas for your money.”
Lopez agreed with Goddard that Arizona prices are much higher than expected, and she has been referring the many motorist calls she gets about gas prices to the attorney general’s consumer complaint line. Historically Arizona pump prices approximate the U.S. average, but Lopez said Nevada, California and Arizona are all experiencing gas prices far out of line with those in the rest of the country. Within Arizona, prices in rural areas, which usually are higher than Valley rates, were lower Tuesday.
Lopez said that may be because the summer blend, used only in the Valley, is more expensive.