Area lawmakers seek explanations for higher prices

A gallon of gas in Toledo was up to 42 cents cheaper than in the Valley.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The dramatically higher cost of gasoline in the Mahoning Valley compared with many other areas of the state has local legislators demanding to know why.
The issue, which has been ongoing for some time, was brought to the forefront again when people traveling from this area to Gov. Ted Strickland's inauguration last weekend were struck by the difference in prices, said state Rep. Kenneth A. Carano of Austintown, D-59th.
What the travelers noticed was that gasoline here costs from 10 cents to 40 cents more per gallon than in the Columbus area.
A comparison of prices by the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report in Ohio Metropolitan areas, as of Friday, showed the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was 2.05 in Akron, 1.98 in Canton-Massillon, 1.99 in Cincinnati, 1.99 in Columbus, 1.87 in Toledo and 2.13 in Youngstown and Warren.
The difference is even more dramatic on the OhioGasPrices Web site, also updated Friday.
According to OhioGasPrices, the lowest regular gasoline prices in the past 36 hours in the Toledo-Bowling Green area was 1.75 per gallon. That compares with 2.12, 2.15 and 2.17 at service stations in Cortland, Austintown and Warren for the same period.
However, some Mahoning Valley stations had lowered their prices below 2 per gallon as of Friday evening.
"Every time we drive to Columbus, we check the fuel prices out," Carano said.
Last year, he said local legislators petitioned the state attorney general's office to investigate a number of things, including: Why are the highest gasoline prices in Ohio always in the Mahoning Valley? How can it be that a gasoline company that produces the fuel, is a wholesale supplier and owns the gas stations have a 20- to 30-cents-per-gallon difference at their stations from one part of the state to another? And is there collusion or price fixing going on?
Also, Carano said, legislators want an explanation of why gasoline prices can be raised at the pumps when the price of oil goes up but tanks are full of gas acquired at a cheaper price, and yet when the price of oil goes down, the reverse is not true.
"They have the best of both worlds," he said.
State Sen. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-33rd, said he is concerned by an oil lobbyist's explanation that the Mahoning Valley gets gasoline from the East Coast and it is more expensive for that reason.
"I don't accept that when two counties away gas is 50 cents a gallon cheaper," he said.
The latest explanation offered is that the region does not have many independent wholesalers, whose presence tend to drive down prices more quickly, Boccieri said.
"We're trying to get to the bottom of this. The former attorney general said no collusion or price fixing has been found," Boccieri said.
Carano said the local legislators plan to meet with Attorney General Marc Dann on the subject early in February. Also, he said, the consortium is looking at developing legislation to deal with each of the issues that they previously asked the attorney general to investigate.
"We're looking for some legislative oversight to make sure that there is no collusion, price gauging or price fixing," Carano said.
He acknowledged it would be an uphill battle, because "we [Democrats] don't have a majority in the House and Senate. But legislators on both sides of the aisle are getting heat on the issue," he said.
Oil prices
Tom Kloza of the Oil Pricing Information Service in New Jersey said the reason for the general downturn of gasoline prices is the corresponding lower price for oil.
On his Web site, Kloza said three states -- Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma -- now have average prices for gasoline of less than 2 a gallon. He predicts that Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina and Tennessee will slip below 2 a gallon within days, and perhaps 20 more states will soon find "at least the aggressive chains beneath this magical number," although averages will be slightly higher.
BeviPowell of the AAA Cleveland office said the organization does not track why prices vary in specific areas. However, she said prices are down in general because the price of a barrel of crude oil has fallen from around 80 last summer to about 50 now. Also, demand is lower because most people don't take road trips at this time of year, she said.

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