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Utah gas prices at record high

AAA’s survey finds 8-cent jump at pump in the past 4 weeks

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The onset of the traditional summer driving season, coupled with volatility in crude oil markets, pushed gasoline prices up to a record average high in Utah over the past four weeks, AAA Utah reported Wednesday.

The motorists club found in its monthly survey that the average price for a gallon of self-serve, regular unleaded was $1.60 across the state, up eight cents over last month's poll and up 33 cents since July, 1999.

AAA Utah found a fairly wide range in cities around the state. Moab had the highest average price at $1.71 per gallon, followed by St. George at $1.65.

Along the Wasatch Front, Salt Lake City, Orem and Provo were all averaging $1.57 with Ogden a penny lower at $1.56 — the lowest price that AAA found anywhere in the state.

Nationally, gasoline prices are averaging $1.58, six cents lower than in June. The Western states now have the highest prices in the nation on a regional basis, with prices averaging $1.69, six cents more than last month.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday that a new national poll it conducted shows Americans are cutting back on their vacation plans, overall driving and even other spending.

Still, more than half still believe the U.S. economy is in good or excellent shape, the same as a month earlier, and few expect it to deteriorate. Optimism about buying stocks has risen since a month ago, when the Bloomberg poll was last taken, and a majority of Americans still think it's a good time to buy a house or a car.

Bloomberg said higher gasoline prices are hurting the poor and young adults most severely. Of those earning less than $20,000 a year, 55 percent said higher pump prices would cause them to cut back spending. Of those earning $100,000 or more, only 19 percent said the same. For low-wage households, 50 percent said higher gasoline prices are a big problem. Among top earners, only 10 percent said it was a big problem, and 39 percent of the total sample agreed.

The AAA survey showed that in New England, average prices were nearly five cents higher than a month ago at $1.67, and the Mid-Atlantic states saw a four-cent rise to $1.63.

The average price in Northern California — which is polled in the same survey as Utah — is at $1.88 this week, up 17 cents from June and five cents higher than the previous record for the area set in March. The highest price found was in Eureka at $2.00.

That $1.88 average price in Northern California is 29 cents higher than a year ago. California's statewide average is currently $1.76, up a dime from June and 30 cents over a year ago.

In the Midwest and Northeast, where prices were averaging more than $2 per gallon, prompting threats of a Congressional investigation, prices have fallen dramatically since early July but remain high enough to keep the national average relatively high.

The Salt Lake City average price of $1.57 represented an eight-cent jump

since last month and the highest price recorded by AAA Utah over the past 12 months. In January, the average price in the city was $1.29 and was at $1.26 last July.

In Nevada, which is also part of the Utah poll, prices in Reno averaged $1.81, up a dime from last month, and in Las Vegas were $1.72, up three cents.

Los Angeles was averaging $1.67 but gas was 30 cents higher in San Francisco at $1.97.

AAA says its fuel gauge report is the most comprehensive retail gasoline survey available, with more than 60,000 self-serve stations surveyed daily. Still, it's prices are often at odds with average prices reported by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Meanwhile, crude oil prices dropped on Wednesday after Saudi Arabia indicated it would raise output by 250,000 barrels per day in August. That came on the heels of a four percent jump in crude prices on Tuesday when OPEC seemed to back off the production hikes, the promise of which had caused prices to drop on Monday.

OPEC members have been attempting to bring prices into a range below $30 that their biggest customers — the U.S. and other industrialized nations — can live with.

So far, it hasn't happened.

E-mail: max@desnews.com