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We’re trying to get control of gas prices

By By Guest Columnist, Rep. Ronald Grantland
The turmoil on Wall Street seems far removed from what we are feeling on Main Street, and the primary culprit is the spiraling cost of gas.
Earlier in the summer as the price of gas started to drop closer to three dollars a gallon, and fuel prices began to look somewhat reasonable. Imagine that—three dollars a gallon looking reasonable—that is just how bad our energy problems have become. Since when did a price that could bankrupt a family budget look reasonable?
Now there is a new price spike in gasoline, and many experts like AAA Alabama say the higher prices could be around for a little while.
As Hurricane Ike slammed into the Texas coast, almost one-fifth of the refineries in America were in its path. Many people started to worry about gas supplies, and people started lining up at the pumps. Suppliers and sellers responded to the increased demand and the concerns about future supply and raised prices. It was a classic price spike, and at the end of last week we saw prices jump fifty cents, and in some places almost a dollar. To many of us, it also looked like gouging, which is illegal under Alabama law.
Because of the storm, some of the fuel supplies from the Gulf Coast were disrupted and Alabama officials declared a state of emergency. Doing so triggered Alabama’s price-gouging law, stopping retailers from raising prices more than 25 percent above the average from the previous 30 days. Sellers can only go above this price if they can show the hike is due to a “reasonable cost.”
That helped hold off what could have been an even worse price spike.
The wholesale price of gas from the Gulf has gone up to nearly five dollars a gallon, so we can expect some pressure on those prices at the pump even with the law enacted.
AAA says that prices are changing so fast on the wholesale market that stations may pay very different rates for their fuel, differences then seen by consumers.
It is time to take action to get in control of this situation, and there is a role for everybody in getting a handle on this energy crisis.
Other Southern states have followed Alabama’s lead and invoked their anti-gouging laws. North Carolina, Kentucky and Arkansas are now enforcing their laws, and others may join. As the laws are enforced, a greater amount of price stability should begin.
Experts also say that individuals are critical in getting prices under control. Panic buying and hoarding add real pressure to prices. The faster we reduce our consumption, the quicker prices will fall.
The fact is that crude oil prices have dropped below $100 a barrel for the first time in many months. When crude prices take a tumble like this, at some point it will show at the pump. As refining capacity gets back on track, gas prices should go down, especially if we all work together.
State and local governments are also looking at ways to reduce fuel consumption as well. Many departments and offices have moved to a four-day work week, extending the workday to ten hours and rotating staff to make sure office hours are kept.
Such schedule changes can reduce significantly the gas used in commutes.
And that is the real solution to our country’s energy crisis: using less. Here in Alabama we are working toward that goal by expanding ride-share programs, making our highways more efficient by expanding lanes and reducing traffic jams. When consumption goes down, so will prices.
Until then, we should all use less gas when we can, and state officials should keep watch over companies to make sure they do not take unfair advantage of a difficult situation.

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