Weekly gas report needs improvement
The state Public Utilities Commission has issued its first weekly report on information about gasoline pricing.
NEW "transparency" rules requiring the state Public Utilities Commission to release weekly reports on gasoline prices have produced an initial report
that is more invisible than transparent. The commission must hold to its promise that it will "refine and expand" subsequent reports to include analysis of trends and market behavior.
The commission's first report, covering the last week of June, showed that the wholesale price of regular unleaded gasoline was $2.30 and the retail price was $3.31. However, it does not include taxes or dealer markup.
"Who's making the money?" asked Tim Hamilton, a mainland oil price analyst who helped put together legislation resulting in the monitoring process. "You don't know. You don't know what they charged the dealers, so you can't tell how much they make."
The commission did not monitor gas prices last year because of inadequate funding by the Legislature. That has been corrected, but the first report falls far short of what observers had expected. The information is needed to show whether what the oil industry has admitted is an "oligopoly" has resulted in "conscious parallelism" in pricing, resembling price-fixing.
Ironically, the PUC says in its report that "because there are only two refiners in Hawaii, there are not enough companies to aggregate the confidential information from the two refiners to maintain the confidentiality of the information. This includes information concerning imports and production by the refiners." Legislators should address this Catch-22 explanation in their next session.
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