Why California Drivers Pay Highest Gas Prices

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – Californians seem to be paying higher gas prices than anywhere else in the country.

According to AAA, the current national average is $2.12 per gallon. Here is a look at the gas prices from around the country:

State Gallon
Colorado $2.00
Florida $2.15
Illinois $2.08
Massachusetts $2.13
Minnesota $2.09
Montana $2.34
New Jersey $1.86
North Carolina $2.01
Pennsylvania $2.32
Texas $1.90
Washington State $2.50
 Source: AAA

In California, drivers pay an average of $2.78 a gallon, 60 cents above the national average.

Jamie Court is the president of Consumer Watchdog in Santa Monica. The think tank has been battling higher gas prices on behalf of drivers in the Golden State.

“We have chronically low inventories in this state, and we have refiners that are making a lot of money keeping us running on empty,” Court said.

Court claimed oil companies intentionally keep supplies low and are slow to maintain their refineries. He said February’s explosion at Exxon’s Torrance refinery, which provides 10 percent of the state’s gas, is an example. The facility is still not fully operational nine months after the blast.

So, how do the government or regulatory agencies allow Exxon to continue to do what Court described as faint moves?

“There is no requirement remarkably that any oil refinery in the state give notice to the California Energy Commission or anyone else that their refineries are going to go down, or when they are going to come back up,” the consumer advocate said.

CBSLA reached out to all four major refiners in California: Tesoro, Valero, Shell and Chevron.

They all turned down our request for an on-camera interview. They argued California’s gas prices could be far lower if the state didn’t have the country’s highest gas taxes.

Federal Excise 18 cents
State Fuel 30 cents
Other 2 cents
Grand Total 50 cents

And don’t forget to add state and local sales taxes. The summer and winter blends, which are supposed to help the environment, also drive up gas prices.

“The summer blend is effective in controlling air quality. We don’t necessarily have to move to the winter blend. But the oil refiners want to because it is cheaper to make,” Court said. “The oil refineries are punishing California, and they are using us as their punching bag. And they are doing, I think partially, because they can get away with it.”

He is pushing for a ballot measure to regulate oil companies more tightly.

“If you are a member of the public, you just keep paying. And if you are a member of the public who knows relatives who live in the East Coast and wonder why they are paying $2 for their gas, and we are paying over $3? You scratch your head. You think that’s just the cost of living in California,” Court added.

Exxon recently sold the Torrance plant to a New Jersey-based refining company for more than $500 million. The sale is expected to be completed next year.

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