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Fuel prices fall, but consumer groups want action to reduce oil dependency

May 16, 2011 | 12:06 pm

Crude oil and retail fuel prices are falling, but not fast enough to please representatives of a broad coalition of consumer groups demanding long-term action to increase fuel efficiency and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

CA_grph U.S. households will spend an average of nearly $3,100 on gasoline in 2011, up from $2,000 in 2009, according to Mark Cooper, research director for the Consumer Federation of America. His remarks came at a teleconference in which new survey results indicated that 87% of respondents said they want reduced dependence on oil, 85% said they are fed up about prices, and 75% said they want higher-mileage vehicles.

"Pain at the pump, along with the country's oil-import dependence, has produced a growing consensus that the federal government should substantially increase fuel-economy standards. And among independent technical experts, there is a growing consensus that committed car companies could meet these higher standards," Cooper said.

The survey involved 2,000 participants polled by the Opinion Research Corp. on April 14 through April 18 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. It was part of the consumer groups' push for a U.S. vehicle fleet standard of 60 mpg by 2025.

The event was held by the Consumer Federation, a nonprofit association of nearly 300 consumer groups, and by Consumer Action, which is a network of more than 8,000 community-based organizations. It was held on a day in which commodity prices fell as concerns about Mississippi River flooding began to ease.

Bob van der Valk, a petroleum industry analyst, said the action by the Army Corps. of Engineers in opening flood spillways had probably helped prevent shutdowns of the giant Exxon Mobil refinery in Baton Rouge, La., and the Placid Refining Co.'s Port Allen, La., refinery.

News that the flood might not restrict fuel supplies helped send crude oil futures for June delivery down $2.35 to $97.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. North Sea Brent crude in Europe was trading at $112.72 a barrel, down $1.11.

Meanwhile, pump prices were also dropping, but at a rate that may have felt like watching paint dry. In California, the average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline fell 0.6 cents overnight to $4.217, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That was a drop of 4.7 cents a gallon since last week.

Nationally, the average price of a gallon of regular gas was dropping at a similarly slow pace, also down 0.6 cents overnight to $3.955 a gallon, the AAA report said. That's a decline of 4.5 cents over the last week. Similar price declines were expected to be seen when the Energy Department later releases its own weekly survey.

Just one year ago, a gallon of regular gasoline in California cost an average of $3.136, and the national average was $2.872 a gallon.

-- Ronald D. White

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