Prices jump at the pump

Local gas costs mirror nation's

Posted: Monday, March 13, 2000

An increase of nearly a dime a gallon in self-serve unleaded gasoline in Juneau over the past two weeks has left some consumers feeling gouged.

Still, there was more resignation than outrage in a spot survey at a couple of local service stations this morning.

And Alaska, for once, isn't the hardest hit place in the nation.

Gasoline prices soared a record 12 cents per gallon in the past two weeks as rising crude oil costs hit Americans hard at the pump, according to a survey of 10,000 stations Sunday.

The average retail price of gasoline nationwide, including all grades and taxes, was about $1.59 per gallon on Friday, up 11.99 cents from Feb. 25. The costliest gas, premium at full-service stations, even flirted with the $2-per-gallon mark.

At the Tesoro station in the Mendenhall Valley, where the pump price was $1.65.9 today, Jeff Rud said that he doesn't blame local retailers for the increases.

But at the same time, Rud said he's ``pretty disgusted.''

``The inventory that is in town now was bought at a cheaper price,'' he said while filling his tank. ``Next shipment, sure, they might have to pay a little more.''

``You gotta pay what you gotta pay,'' shrugged fellow customer Bill Buonamassa. ``It helps our economy, believe it or not.''

At Petro Express, where unleaded is now $1.61.9, customer Patrick Fagg said that the price increases ``suck.''

``I don't find them reasonable,'' Fagg said, noting Alaska's petroleum reserves. ``You have to wonder who's controlling everything. It's not our state.''

He said he supports the official investigation by the state Attorney General's Office into the ``Alaska Paradox,'' the high pump prices that are paid in the state with the nation's largest oil field. Spokesmen for the attorney general declined to comment on the status of the investigation, which was announced last summer.

``I feel ripped off,'' said Carole Bullman, a customer at Petro Express this morning. ``But there's nothing you can do about it. ... It's just greed.''

If so, it's not local greed, said Esmail Peirovi, co-owner and manager of the Tesoro station downtown, where unleaded is now $1.69.9.

``Apparently everybody is complaining,'' Peirovi said. ``I don't know what to tell them. It's happening nationwide, it looks like. All I can say is the retailers are getting hurt at first.''

Tesoro doesn't change its centsper-gallon markup when the overall price goes up, so the store's percentage margin on pump sales actually has decreased, he said.

Jim Sykes, executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, said there needs to be a conservation-driven national energy policy before drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, as the state's U.S. senators have proposed anew.

In the meantime, consumers should get some perspective, Sykes said: Gasoline in much of the rest of the world is four to five times more expensive than in the United States. Americans should drive less and use more public transportation, he said.

Sykes also called an Internetdriven campaign for a national ``gas out'' - a boycott on gasoline purchases April 7-9 - ``a wonderful idea.'' Consumer reaction to the high gasoline prices of 1973 ended the energy crisis, he said. But the attorney general's investigation is off the mark, as there is very little gasoline refined in Alaska, Sykes said.

Consumers could take some comfort that, when adjusted for inflation, the average overall price is still lower than the record set two decades ago.

``The true high was June 1980, with $2.66 for all grades combined, using today's dollars,'' analyst Trilby Lundberg said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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