Huntsman says state to monitor gas prices
Utah now rates 3rd in the nation for high fees for fuel
Utah gas prices were the third-highest in the nation on Wednesday, and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said that the state will monitor and analyze the situation to try to ensure that Utah consumers aren't being gouged.
Huntsman said the state Department of Agriculture and Food and the state Department of Commerce were evaluating the matter.
"Gas prices are hitting everyone hard," the governor said in a news release Wednesday. "As the rest of the country is seeing some relief from exorbitant gas prices, gas retailers in Utah have not shown Utahns a commensurate decrease at the pumps here at home.
"We are asking these state agencies to monitor the situation within their enforcement powers to make sure Utahns are not being taken advantage of," Huntsman said.
The governor's office has not launched a formal investigation but said Huntsman wants retailers and consumers to be aware that the state is watching.
"In general, the goal is we want Utahns to know the state is concerned with the price," said Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley.
Roskelley didn't know whether the state will be monitoring refineries and other aspects of the oil economy. Most of Utah's oil is delivered to the state's refineries through pipelines from Wyoming and tar sands in Canada. Roskelley referred questions to the state Department of Commerce, which couldn't comment Wednesday because its department head was out of town.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food already monitors gas-station pumps to ensure that they properly measure gas and that the gas that comes out of the pump is as advertised, including its octane level, said department spokesman Larry Lewis.
"We're going to be making sure the consumer is getting every penny they pay for at the gas pump," he said.
The number of complaints his department is receiving about pump accuracy is on the rise: The department received 46 consumer complaints from January to June of this year, compared with 50 in all of 2007. About 15 percent of the complaints are legitimate, he said, but his department has found no intentional wrongdoing on the part of gas stations.
"Ninety-seven percent of the 28,000 pumps are operating properly. When we find one that's out of adjustment, we have the station fix it, and they do," Lewis said.
Pricing, he said, is outside the department's responsibility, and that won't change.
Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association, said his group welcomes "any reasonable level of scrutiny into the way business is done here."
Prices in Utah tend to lag national changes, both on the upswing and the backslide. But Peacock said that over time, prices even out.
"I think we've demonstrated in the past we operate in a reasonable and ... balanced way," he said.
The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas on Wednesday was $3.79. In Utah, the average price was $4.10 per gallon, only lower than Alaska, where a gallon of gas cost $4.64, and Hawaii, where it was $4.45.
On July 17, the national average price for a gallon of gas hit a record high of $4.11. Since then, the price has dropped 32 cents. Utah hit its record-high average price of $4.22 per gallon on July 18. But gas prices in Utah have only dropped 12 cents since then.In September 2006, Utah's gas prices were the fourth-highest in the nation, and Huntsman called for an investigation by the Utah Department of Commerce. The department, in an October 2006 report, found that retailers were gouging consumers but that they were not breaking state laws.
Contributing: Jennifer Toomer-Cook E-mail: email@example.com
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