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Environmental, economic factors cited in gas crisis

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

The ongoing gasoline shortage in Georgia has prompted state and industry officials to work to ensure solutions, and attempt to calm the anxieties of consumers.

According to AAA Auto Club South, the average fuel price in the state stands at $3.93 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline, compared with the national average of $3.64 per gallon. Numerous gas stations in metro Atlanta have also experienced shortages in their supplies in recent days.

The shortfall was largely brought about by the arrivals of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in the Gulf of Mexico, the source of refineries which supply gas stations in Georgia.

Garrett Townsend, district manager for AAA Auto Club South, said the reason for Georgia's high gas prices also contains an economic component. "In years past, taxes applied to fuel were lower than in other areas," he said. "However, those taxes have risen, so people are paying more at the pump."

Townsend also noted that emissions regulations in Georgia play a role in the state's gas crisis, as the state is required to use a "special blend" of fuel which costs more to produce.

Bert Brantley, press secretary for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said steps have been taken in recent weeks to minimize the effects of the shutdown in the near future.

Echoing Townsend, Brantley said balancing Georgia's gas prices and availability with those of other states is "not an even comparison," because of circumstances which make the state unique. "The fuel we sell after Sept. 15 is different from every other state."

Brantley noted that waivers were granted to the state by the Environmental Protection Agency Sept. 5, 11 and 22, thereby easing the restrictions on the type of gas Georgia stations can use.

Brantley said Georgia's air quality over the years, has demanded a different standard be upheld for the state. "For people to compare us to other states is not an even comparison," he said. "Even with the relaxation of the size and weight of gas trucks, and the increased number of hours they can bring supply into the state, we still have a deficiency in what we're getting from the Gulf of Mexico. They're just not back up to full production."

The governor's spokesman said suppliers have brought new types of gas to the state, but added that Georgia remains "completely dependent" on oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. "We're constantly talking to suppliers and distributors to see how we can get more gas into Georgia," continued Brantley. "Hopefully, as distribution is freed up, we'll see prices come down. Right now, we're being impacted by a lack of supply."

Brantley said gas prices in Georgia would likely be higher, if not for a price-gouging statute enacted by Perdue on Sept. 12.

Mike Thornbrugh, a spokesman for QuikTrip, one of the corporations whose stations have felt the effects of the gas shortage, said the company has never experienced the current level of demand from its customers.

Thornbrugh said, although stations have been unable to provide fuel for motorists at various points in recent weeks, the situation could be much worse than it is. "We learned a lot of lessons with what happened after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, not only from a supply standpoint, but also from a huge customer demand," he said.

"We knew Ike would cause 20-25 percent of refineries on Gulf Coast to shut down, so we [did] everything possible to keep at least 50 percent of our metro Atlanta area stores full of gas."

Thornbrugh said Monday afternoon that QuikTrip's goal was to have 75 percent of its stores receiving gasoline products by the end of the day, and to have all its pumps fully operational later this week.

"We will probably still have spot outages, from store to store, because the demand is so high," he continued. "If you see us out of gas for an hour or two, don't panic. We'll find it."