Thursday, September 08, 2005

Why Are Nebraskans Getting Screwed At the Pump?

by Kyle Michaelis
Not only are Nebraskans paying all-time highs for gasoline (the state average is $3.20, higher even than in the early 1980s, a comparison the George Wills of the world have used deceptively in recent months to make current prices seem less abominable), but for reasons unknown prices in Nebraska have also risen higher and faster than other parts of the country.

All Americans are taking a hit at the pump, but we Nebraskans are just plain getting screwed.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
So much for Nebraskans finding solace in their out-of-state neighbors being pummeled at the pump at the same rate. According to statistics released by the American Petroleum Institute, Nebraska has an unenviable standing: It’s the only state west of Arkansas that saw gas prices jump more than 50 cents per gallon during the high-spike period of Aug. 30 until Tuesday. Prices have begun to drop the past two days.

Motorists have another distinguishing fact to ponder. As of early Wednesday morning, according to AAA, only five states and the District of Columbia had a higher, average price per gallon of regular unleaded than the Nebraska average of more than $3.19 per gallon, which was about 15 cents more than the national average.

The other states are on the East Coast, where fuel prices skyrocketed more than any region in the country after Hurricane Katrina crippled key fuel refineries and pipelines now in the process of being put back on-line.

“Oh, you’re in the red,” Rayola Dougher of the American Petroleum Institute said after looking at a map that showed Nebraska was the only state outside the East Coast, Mid-Atlantic and Arkansas colored red because prices jumped more than 50 cents a gallon over the previous week.

Dougher had the same response as fuel wholesalers, experts and a representative of the state’s fuel retailers when asked why Nebraska has yet another reason for being painted red — she didn’t know.....

Attorney General Jon Bruning is among those interested in finding the answer.

“If these numbers are accurate, they are very troubling,” said Regan Anson, spokeswoman for Bruning. “I can assure you the attorney general will get to the bottom of it"....

East Coast prices ballooned more than in other regions...because two key pipelines that feed them fuel were crippled by Hurricane Katrina. But Nebraska gets fuel from a variety of sources, much of it from refineries outside the Gulf of Mexico, including those in Indiana, Oklahoma and Kansas....

The executive director of the Nebraska Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association was asked what, if anything, is unique to Nebraska’s supply, marketing and delivery system that may have caused a higher-than-average price jump.

“The last time I checked, it was a free market,” said Tim Keigher.

“They can price it at whatever they want to,” he continued. “It’s all individual businessmen. They make all their own decisions. I have no control over them.”

I wish we could take Bruning's vow to investigate Nebraska's outrageously high gas prices more seriously, but it's highly unlikely he'll do more than offer lip service when it comes to enforcing standards of decency and fair play that might offend his Republican friends in the Chamber of Commerce who, like this Keigher fellow, will defend to the death the "free market" without any concern for the blatant price-fixing that makes mockery of the term.

Hard-working, cash-strapped Nebraskans deserve some answers for why they have been singled out for price-gouging. Pity that we don't have more elected representatives at the state level like U.S. Senator Ben Nelson who has called for a congressional probe of sky rocketing gas prices nationwide. Alas, our bunch of Republican corporate lackeys in state government are unlikely to display Nelson's independence, common sense, and true Nebraskan grit.

Meanwhile, we pay out the...I believe it's called...wazoo.


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