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Consumers in need of advocate at the gas pump

Once again, consumers in West Virginia -- as in much of the nation -- have become victims of trickle-down economics, putting it quite literally, at the gas pumps. Avaricious OPEC strategy has depleted U.S. oil supplies, leaving them at their lowest level in years. This, in turn, has affected gasoline retailers, who have jacked up pump prices as much as 15 cents a gallon in a 10-day period. And, of course, this has put the greatest squeeze on the consumer. Enough already.

At this time a year ago, gasoline prices were about 31 cents cheaper than today. The average price then was 97.9 cents a gallon, one AAA official in West Virginia had been quoted as saying. And although AAA's monthly fuel report for January 18 showed gas prices since early December dropped 2.1 cents to a national average of $1.28 a gallon for self-serve regular unleaded, the pump prices have increased to in excess of $1.50 a gallon in some states.

The middle-class consumer has been faced with a number of increases in monthly expenses other than gasoline. Health insurance premiums and other health-related costs have skyrocketed. Public utility rates have soared in some areas. Grocery prices are up. You name it, chances are the prices have risen. This is especially difficult on those consumers who have suddenly found themselves without work due to their employers downsizing or going out of business.

We cannot point the finger of blame at the gasoline retailers. Marvin Gray, long-time director of the West Virginia Gasoline Dealers, said, "When supplies are tight, prices go up and there's not much you can do about it."

The Oil Producing and Exporting Companies simply do not care about American consumers. Naturally, gas retailers want the business. And while motorists need fuel to power their vehicles, financial resources available to them for gasoline are not a bottomless pit. Apparently few oil and gas people were listening a few short years ago when they were warned not to be so dependent upon foreign oil imports.

Is it too late for a reversal? We think not. The bottom line is that something has to "give" -- besides, perennially, the consumer.

Robert F. Stealey

Telegram Editorial Board chairman

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