Let's hope state investigation forces gas prices down

Higher than normal gasoline prices are nothing new to Walla Walla.

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While Washington state fumes over gasoline prices that are far higher than its neighboring states, Walla Walla wonders why the fuss. After all, this community is used to seeing gas prices routinely 25 cents higher per gallon or more when compared to Tri-Cities, Yakima and Clarkston.

That, however, doesn't mean folks aren't angry about outrageous gas prices nor or in the past. They are. It's just that after ranting and raving over and over again, most here have learned to pace themselves.

Over the past few decades the late Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, nudged several times the Attorney General's Office to investigate the imbalance in regional gasoline prices. The investigations found that, yes, prices were higher in Walla Walla, but that there was nothing illegal going on. It was frustrating.

Perhaps now that the entire state is in our boat, something will come from an investigation.

Gov. Chris Gregoire recently ordered the state Department of Commerce to monitor rising gas prices and asked the agency to recommend what actions can be taken to help reduce costs to drivers. She wants any concerns about a manipulated market to be reported to the Attorney General's Office.

Gregoire also sent letters to every refinery in Washington asking it to "take all prudent measures to increase production and supplies sufficiently to reduce the costs for consumers on the West Coast."

Washington state now has the fourth highest gas prices in the nation, behind Hawaii, Alaska and California, according to auto club AAA. Washington's average price for regular fuel is now $4.24 a gallon, compared to the $3.66 national average.

"Washington citizens are frustrated with having to pay gasoline prices that are significantly higher than those paid in other parts of the country," Gregoire said in prepared statement. "While gasoline prices in most of the nation continue to slowly decline, prices in Washington and the entire West Coast have risen or held steady over the past month."

Gregoire hit the mark. We feel the pain at the pump - and have been feeling it in this Valley for many ears.

The higher prices are being blamed on a refinery fire near Bellingham, but that doesn't explain the nearby price disparity.

Clearly something outside of the usual market forces has caused the prices in Washington to remain higher than other states. Although we have no evidence, we suspect that opportunity and greed is the cause of escalated pricing.

The disparity in gasoline prices has continually been a sore point for Walla Walla, now the rest of the state knows our pain. Perhaps the muscle generated by the state government can get the evidence and force Big Oil to, at the least, treat Washington state (and Walla Walla) fairly.

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