Marianas Variety Guam Edition – The Local and Regional Newspaper

12 23Sun07052015

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Time to talk

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TALK around the water cooler for the past two days has been mostly about the cost of gasoline. As a gallon of regular nudges up toward $5, everything – from riding the bus, to buying smaller cars, to riding bicycles – is being considered and debated by, it seems, just about everybody.

Little wonder. Guam is kind of like Daly City West, a typical American residential location that, like most of California, has grown up around the automobile. Guam is a little more spread out, of course, and retains a more rural feel, especially in the south. But like mainland suburbia, we can’t really do anything much without our gasoline-powered vehicles.

Furthermore, we really like our cars and trucks and resent being told what we can do with them. Getting people with that kind of mindset to use mass transit and leave their cars at home is tough. We’ve had mass transit for quite awhile, but relatively few people use it.

Instead we grit our teeth and pay, and pay, and pay for our “go” juice. But resentment also grows with the price, as we begin to feel we are being taken advantage of. The price has marched steadily upward for the past year, from $4.22 for regular on March 1 last year to $4.97 now. There were a couple of dips last summer, but the cost has gone up pretty steadily.

The fact that the price is exactly the same for all three brands makes us suspicious. Mobil has been leading the way on the most recent increases, but Shell and 76 always follow suit, not just to the penny but to the tenth-of-a-cent.  Perhaps it is time for some non-petroleum entity, a committee of the Legislature or the Executive branch, perhaps, to try and get some answers. If necessary, subpoena the gas company executives here and compel them to testify.

Or maybe we should sue, as Hawaii did back in 1998. The 50th state took seven companies to court, charging they systematically fixed prices over at least a decade that cost Hawaii motorists hundreds of millions of dollars. The case seems anachronistic now. The price for gas in Hawaii at the time was about $1.40 a gallon for regular, while prices on the mainland were just under $1 a gallon at the time.

Hawaii actually won that lawsuit, after about three years in court, but agreed to an out-of-court settlement for $20 million, a fraction of what was claimed. The state settled because the process threatened to endure for years of appeals and counter-arguments.

We probably shouldn’t waste any money on such legal action. But an oversight hearing, or a blue-chip task force with subpoena power, would at least produce some answers. And whatever politician steps up to the plate will not be easily forgotten.

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