California · Energy

As Californians pay 70% more for gas, Newsom scrambles to cut prices quickly

California has pretty much always paid much more than the nation for gasoline at the pump, in part due to higher taxes and a more expensive blend of fuel, but an average price that’s nearly 70% more than most everyone else in the U.S. is a bit extreme.

The national average price for regular gasoline is little changed from a month ago, but drivers in California have seen a jump of nearly 20% from Sept. 3, as refinery issues tighten supplies of the fuel in the Golden State, MarketWatch reports.

The average price for regular unleaded gasoline stood at $3.765 a gallon early Monday afternoon, down 0.4% from $3.779 a month ago, according to data from GasBuddy. The average in California, however, was at $6.25 Monday, That’s 66% higher than the national average and up nearly 20% from $5.221 on Sept. 3.

There are “many refinery issues in the West, including six refineries that are either undergoing planned or unplanned maintenance,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, on Monday. “That has caused gasoline supply on the West Coast to drop to its lowest level in a decade and caused wholesale gas prices to skyrocket.”

Total motor gasoline inventories on the West Coast were at 24.9 million barrels for the week ended Sept. 23, at the lowest since 2012, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom pressed regulators and oil refiners to step-up production of winter-blend gasoline, a version of the fuel that is cheaper to produce and cheaper for consumers.

“In light of the dramatic increase in gas prices that California is experiencing, we should not wait until the end of the month to start distributing or to ramp up production of our winter-blend gasoline. Allowing refiners to make an early transition to winter-blend gasoline could quickly increase fuel supply and provide a much needed safety valve with minimal air quality impacts,” Newsom said in a letter to Liane Randolph, chair of the California Air Resources Board. “Accordingly, I am directing that the Air Resources Board immediately take whatever steps are necessary to allow for an early transition to gasoline to be manufactured, imported, distributed, and sold in California.”

Oil industry representatives said it is state regulations that cause higher prices in California than the rest of the country, KTLA reports. The summer blend of gasoline that refineries are required by law to produce in the hotter months costs more money to make but is designed to limit pollutants like smog. Most refineries can’t switch to the winter blend until November.

Switching from the summer to winter blend would likely save consumers 15 to 20 cents per gallon, said Doug Shupe, a spokesman for the Southern California Automobile Club, an affiliate of AAA.

Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.