Dan Walters

Dan Walters
Observations on California and its politics
dwalters@sacbee.com
03/24/2015 8:44 PM

As its 24.6 million licensed drivers know all too well, California gas prices have been going up and down like a supercharged yo-yo in recent months.

From about $4 a gallon late last year, prices plunged to below $2 in many areas as global crude oil prices plummeted.

They then jumped back to more than $3 when a variety of factors simultaneously hit supplies and prices of the state’s uniquely formulated, smog-fighting gasoline: an explosion at a Southern California refinery in February, a national refinery labor dispute, rebounding crude prices and application of state “cap-and-trade” carbon emission fees to fuel.

More recently, during the last week or two, prices have drifted downward again to below $3 at many stations.

On Tuesday, two state Senate committees staged a hearing on California’s gasoline market, working off a background paper prepared by a legislative staffer.

Such a report should have fleshed out the ups and downs of the market as described above, offering factual and authoritative information about why the gyrations occurred.

No such luck.

The report’s title – “Up Like a Rocket, Down Like a Feather” – reflected the clear bias one could find within its seven pages. It focused almost entirely on the price increases since February, disregarding both the dramatic plunge in prices prior to then and their more recent downward trend.

It basically was a hit piece, implying that prices had been manipulated by refiners. It minimized the cap-and-trade effect, the impact of the state’s unique formula on supplies during refinery disruptions and the global commodities market. It suggested that the attorney general’s office could, as some senators have sought, “open an investigation into gasoline market price manipulation.”

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