$3 gas due next week as cost cap creeps up
Preliminary figures point to a price ceiling increase of 9 cents
With House and Senate lawmakers still at odds over the fate of the state's gasoline price cap law, prices at the pump could be edging closer to $3 a gallon statewide.
Next week's price caps are expected to increase by 9 cents, according to preliminary calculations by the Star-Bulletin.
The increase would continue an upward trend that has seen the price ceilings go up 31 cents since the week of Feb. 27. This week's caps are 12 cents higher than last week and are at their highest points of 2006.
New price caps will be set by the Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday.
By Monday, if wholesalers charge up to the maximum allowed and wholesalers add a markup of 16 cents, prices for regular gasoline are projected to range from $2.94 a gallon on Oahu to $3.30 on Lanai, while the statewide average would be right at $3.
The statewide average as reported by AAA's Fuel Gauge Report first topped $3 a gallon on Labor Day weekend -- just days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast -- and remained there until Oct. 31. The highest statewide average recorded so far in 2006 was $2.90 in late January and early February.
Yesterday's statewide average was $2.84 a gallon, 33 cents higher than the national average, according to AAA, which bases its survey on credit card transactions at self-service stations nationwide, including 222 in Hawaii.
Nationwide, the average retail price of gasoline soared by almost 14 cents last week, rising above $2.50 a gallon for the first time since late October, according to the Energy Information Administration.
One of the key factors underpinning the high price of gasoline is the cost of crude oil, which has been elevated by strong demand, tight global supplies and geopolitical uncertainties.
The fate of the gas cap will be debated among lawmakers again this week, as they face a deadline of Friday to have bills pass out of their subject matter committees and on to the money committees.
House members are ready to suspend and repeal the cap, while the Senate has pushed a measure to make adjustments to the legislation.
The Senate Consumer Protection Committee is scheduled to hear the House proposal on Thursday. After previously saying he would not hear it, state Sen. Ron Menor, the committee chairman and chief author of the gas cap law, said he would "keep an open mind" and grant a hearing.
But House leaders have not done the same for Menor's bill, which is aimed at lowering the weekly price ceilings. House officials say they do not plan to hear Menor's bill, and will insert the language of their proposal into another Senate bill.
Menor (D, Mililani) criticized House leadership of trying to placate the oil industry.
"If they were truly concerned about the interest of consumers, they would at least keep an open mind and give the Senate bill a full and fair public hearing instead of caving in to the oil companies," Menor said.
He said he would weigh his options on how to keep his proposal alive. One option would be to insert the language of his proposal into the House measure being heard Thursday.
If lawmakers are unable to reach a compromise before the end of the session, the current law would remain in place.
House leaders say they have no confidence in the Public Utilities Commission to enforce the law the way they envisioned, and have criticized the agency as lacking the political will to carry out their intent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.