What goes up...keeps going up

Sixty-three dollars later, Francis Floyd of Bainbridge Island had a full tank of gas in his wife’s Toyota Land Cruiser at the 76 station on High School Road Monday evening.  - Julie Busch photo
Sixty-three dollars later, Francis Floyd of Bainbridge Island had a full tank of gas in his wife’s Toyota Land Cruiser at the 76 station on High School Road Monday evening.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

Rep. Inslee seeks relief as gas prices shrink family budgets.

Keith Hauschulz watched the gas pump numbers tick by like an out-of-luck gambler, waiting for what he knows is always a losing combination.

“I’ve been looking at these kinds of prices for a long time,” the island resident said. “I don’t think it’s going to change.”

Hauschulz popped the trigger, stopping the Chevron service station’s one-armed bandit before his 1982 Dodge pickup was fully quenched.

“There it is: 57 bucks and I only filled it three-quarters full,” he said, after holstering the pump.

With a gallon of regular unleaded gas on the island cracking the $3 mark, Hauschulz was one of many service station regulars expressing unhappiness mixed with a tinge of resignation after a recent surge in gas prices.

“I’ll just make less money,” said Bainbridge Island Taxi driver Daryl Jane, as he gassed up his cab. “It definitely hurts (but) there’s nothing I can do. We already use the cheapest grade. I’ll just earn less.”

Gas prices shot up 42 cents over the last month in Washington state, according to the American Automobile Association, with the average gallon of regular at $3.02 on Tuesday.

Prices were about 8 cents higher at the island’s three gas stations, where some customers were mentally reshuffling family finances as they watched their savings dwindle on digital read-out screens.

“I’m really looking at shifting the budget,” said island resident Linda Ryffel as her pump topped out at $59.

Ryffel recently moved to the island with her four children and their Chevy Tahoe – a sizable rig that makes hauling kids easy, but has a thirst for petrol that has cut some “fun stuff” from the family budget.

“We’re adding money to the gas budget and taking money away from other things,” she said. “It’s sad. It’s hurting everybody. We’re all feeling the crunch.”

Rep. Jay Inslee feels his constituents’ fuel pump pain.

“People are getting hurt at the pump in Kitsap County,” the Bainbridge Island congressman said Monday, after signing on to a bill aimed at reducing the sharp spikes in gas prices.

“By shining the light of day on energy speculation, we’ll be able to address abuses and run the rats out,” he said. “Consumers will see results of this cleanup in their pocketbooks.”

Authored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), the Prevent Unfair Manipulation of Prices (PUMP) Act takes aim at unregulated energy speculators blamed for manipulating markets and driving up gas prices.

There are two types of speculation: market trading and so-called “over-the-counter” trading.

Market trading, which funnels through the New York Mercantile Exchange, is self-regulated with oversight from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

But about 75 percent of energy speculation occurs through over-the-counter trading, where critics say it can skirt regulation and dodge scrutiny.

“We want a common sense approach that makes for more openness and transparency,” said Inslee, who joined Washington Rep. Brian Baird (D-3rd District) in supporting the act. “We want no collusion like the type that went on with the Enron debacle.”

Inslee has also expressed support for measures introduced by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell that would make gas price-gouging a federal crime as oil companies like Exxon Mobile post record profits.

While the blame for rising prices is varied, AAA Washington spokeswoman Janet Ray said many analysts are highlighting unregulated speculation as a primary cause for recent spikes.

“The stock market is certainly responsible for putting the pedal to the floor on gas prices,” she said.

War and political instability in oil-producing nations has led wholesale fuel buyers to hike the price of gasoline in various markets. According to Inslee, every time the U.S. rattles its saber in the Middle East – as has been the case recently with Iran – speculators turn up the heat on oil prices.

he PUMP Act is somewhat of a departure for Inslee, who has championed alternative energy in numerous legislative proposals.

“This is just one small step toward breaking our addiction to oil,” he said, admitting fuel prices are likely to continue to rise despite the PUMP Act’s proposals.

Inslee has drafted an energy independence bill that promotes biofuels, solar power and other alternative energies with new investment and stronger environmental regulations.

“That’s the long-term plan,” he said. “But right now it’s difficult for people. They’re trying to make a down payment on their mortgage and paying college tuition. People are getting hit when speculation rises prices and blows holes in monthly budgets.”

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