PhotoGas prices have been slowly rising since late January, when most analysts think they hit bottom -- except in California and especially the Los Angeles area, where prices shot up $1.03 in February, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report website.

By last week, Los Angeles prices at the pump for regular gas had reached $3.53 per gallon, a $1.09 --  or 45% -- higher than the national average of $2.44 per gallon.

“Angelenos are feeling the brunt of a statewide crisis – California oil refiners’ stranglehold on supply that gives them free rein to manipulate the market and spike prices even as crude prices remain low,” said Consumer Advocate Liza Tucker of ConsumerWatchdog.

Tucker says the common excuse of problems at the refinery just doesn't hold water. 

“Lawmakers have a simple solution at hand – mandating a minimum 24 days of supply of gasoline. It’s time to bring California up to national standards and remove a key supply metric from the oil companies’ control,” she said. 

California keeps just 10 days of supply of gasoline on hand, less than half of the nation’s average of 24 days of supply, making the gas market in California tighter and more vulnerable to volatility than the rest of the nation. 

Motorists irked

This situation irks Southland motorists, like Jack of Los Angeles, who wrote to us recently:

"'We've heard all the excuses. Refinery fire/strikes. We had all these before here. But never has gas marched up over a dollar in a month. At least not that can recall. ... With oil down around $50 a barrel I would hate to see the prices of gas when oil gets back to around $100 again."

"There just seems to be always a reason the consumer gets screwed. We are all pretty sick of it. At least I am," Jack said.

Consumer Watchdog has called on Gov. Brown and regulators to investigate refinery closures since refineries began slowing production in early February. Tesoro’s Martinez refinery was shut down on February 2nd during the steelworkers’ nationwide strike, despite its CEO’s assurances to investors that refineries can continue operating with lower staff levels indefinitely. Production was further cut after an explosion rocked Exxon’s Torrance refinery. The two refineries together represent 16.5 percent of the state’s refining capacity.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has announced hearings into the Torrance refinery explosion, refinery infrastructure, and on gasoline pricing and supply. Consumer Watchdog is also pressing lawmakers to pass legislation mandating on-site inspections when refineries close to determine if the closures are for legitimate reasons.

“Gas prices forty-five percent above the national average is ridiculous, and does not reflect normal supply and demand,” said Tucker. “Californians want answers and lawmakers should subpoena refinery CEOs to get them.  Just because oil companies are the largest lobbyists in the state, doesn’t mean their industry should get a free pass time and again—from accidents that poison people to manipulation of supply that poisons prices at the pump.”

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