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CA gas prices prompt waiver for winter blend

A refinery is seen in this undated file photo.
October 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
California produces just as much gasoline as it needs -- just over 1 billion gallons a month. So when multiple hiccups in production occur, that's when gas prices go up. But one trade association has an idea to increase supplies now.

To bring down high gasoline prices, the California Independent Oil Marketers Association, which represents independent station operators, filed for a waiver with state regulators asking that they be able to sell winter blend fuel now.

The annual switch from the more complicated summer formula to the easier-and-faster-to-make winter blend doesn't officially happen until October 30.

"Allowing winter gasoline to be used sooner in California will certainly provide additional supply very quickly and that would help with prices," said Gordon Schremp with the California Energy Commission.

But the wheels of government run slowly. The US EPA rarely grants state waivers. The last one it granted was after Hurricane Katrina. And because California has special restrictions to ensure we have the cleanest gasoline in the world, the state must sign off first.

"You have another layer of government activity that has to take place legally," said Gordon.

As painful as the prices are, not everyone thinks California should switch to winter blend so soon when temperatures can still be on the high side.

Just this week, parts of the state suffered through a heat wave when summer fuels can help fight off health-damaging pollution.

"Cleaner-burning gasoline, or California gasoline, is a key control measure. It cuts the emissions that cause smog and send people to hospitals and emergency rooms," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen with the American Lung Association.

With the Exxon-Mobil Torrance Refinery back online, though, supply should increase. Wholesale prices already dropped 40 to 50 cents, but it won't be reflected at the pump until next week, so expect prices to stay high for a few more days.

Long term, the oil industry says California needs to expand infrastructure: build more refineries, pipelines and storage. But that's not as easy as it seems.

"The difficulty is that Californians generally love their environment and they don't want to have facilities that they perceive to be degrading that environment. On the other hand, they want to have cheap gas. So this is a conflict," said Dr. Dudley Burton, who teaches environmental studies at Sacramento State.

There is no timeline to make a decision on the state waiver. State regulators have had the request for three days.

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