Gas Prices Skyrocket in Midwest

Thursday, June 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Motorists everywhere are paying more for gasoline, but prices at some Midwestern pumps have skyrocketed to more than $2 per gallon because of a federally mandated fuel designed to clean up the air.

A new version of the cleaner gas means that motorists in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas are shelling out 30 to 50 cents more per gallon, with premium going for as much as $2.23 a gallon in Chicago.

``When you come and fill up and it's $30 to $40, it's kind of a shock,'' said Les Whalen of Elgin, Ill. ``You just wonder where it's coming from.''

Nationwide, the average price of regular unleaded is $1.56, the American Automobile Association said. Experts say prices are up because of the high cost of crude oil and demand for gasoline at the start of summer driving season.

But Chicago, Milwaukee and 15 other metropolitan areas have some of the worst air pollution in the nation and have been required since 1995 to use a cleaner burning fuel, called reformulated gas.

This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered retailers to start selling a new breed of reformulated gas — designed to further preserve air quality — by June 1, though most service stations began offering the fuel in May.

``As the new gasoline was being implemented, the demand for gasoline was very high,'' said Michael Bie of AAA Wisconsin. ``That put a squeeze on prices.''

Analysts thought the new gas would cost no more than 10 cents per gallon more than conventional gasoline. While that seems to be the case in the other 15 regions, average gas prices in the metro Milwaukee and Chicago areas have jumped.

The high prices could be a result of the kind of reformulated gas many Milwaukee and Chicago gas stations use — a version blended with ethanol, a corn derivative, said Erin Roth, executive director of the Wisconsin Petroleum Council.

Other areas use another kind of reformulated fuel which, while in greater supply and cheaper, is thought to contaminate water.

Looking for relief from high gas costs, legislators and industry representatives in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas asked the EPA to waive the fuel requirement. The EPA denied the requests, and Wisconsin lawmakers are considering suing the government.

Illinois legislators so far aren't fighting the EPA, but some lawmakers there say they will try to repeal the state's 5 percent sales tax on gas to try to lower prices.

Tanya McCullum of Milwaukee said she decided to hitch a ride with her mother each day to lessen her gasoline bill.

``It's expensive. I'm paying almost $2 a gallon,'' McCullum said as she waited for her ride home.

Rebecca Goldberg, pregnant with her first child, leaves her home in Kenosha, Wis., only for doctors' appointments. She said it costs her $20 to fill up her car.

``If it's not for a doctor's appointment, I'm not leaving,'' she said. ``It's just too much.''


On the Net:

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