Gas cap costly, sources agree

Even before a state study showed the gas-cap law is costing consumers about $10 million a month at the pump, members of the state Legislature were already recommending its repeal, according to officials with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA).

Now, in this election year, constituents are putting pressure on state elected officials to get rid of the gas cap, the WSPA officials said.

The politicians, hearing from those they represent and eyeing the results of opinion polls, are listening, with even the author of the gas-cap legislation joining the camp of those who would wish to repeal or modify the nation’s only state-sponsored regulation of the gas industry.

Those with a distaste for government intervention in the free marketplace are rejoicing, as are local dealers tired of being told they have to change their gas prices every week.

More fuel to the fire is a government-sanctioned study that concluded that, in order to reduce the state’s dependence on imported oil, the gas cap is a bad idea, WSPA officials said in a telephone interview.

Among the problems with the gas cap is the failure to address the underlying causes of the state’s high gas prices, said Anita Mangels, WSPA national representative, who has been in the state lobbying for the repeal of the legislation.

Hawai’i has the second-highest taxes on gasoline in the nation, a high cost of living, and a small market. “There’s a price for living in paradise,” she said.

An “extremely anti-competitive environment,” a retail rent cap on station owners, and a provision that makes it difficult for representatives of the big oil companies to also run stations, have all led national and state governmental leaders, private-sector economists, academicians, and others, to recommend getting rid of some or all of those burdensome laws, Mangels said.

Members of the state House of Representatives approved a measure to suspend and then repeal the gas-cap law, and that bill is currently moving in the state Senate, said Melissa Pavlicek, a local WSPA representative.

Experts predicted price volatility, and rising prices, before the cap was enacted, Pavlicek said. American Automobile Association leaders concluded there has been no relief since the cap went into effect, Mangels said.

It’s up to members of the state Legislature to reduce state gas taxes, which is one way to get lower pump prices, Mangels added.

“There are no easy answers,” Mangels said.

Leaders of the petroleum industry opposed the legislation from the time it was proposed, and are hopeful state lawmakers will act this session to repeal the legislation Mangels sees as “quite harmful to consumers.”

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