Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hawaii considers gasoline price controls

In a move that may be a case study for future congressional action on high gas prices, Hawaii is moving to cap what customers are charged at the pump.

The state's drivers spend an average of $2.84 for a gallon of regular -- less in the big cities, far more on outlying islands. California might seem to be setting a price record almost every day, but the state's average is still 4 cents lower than Hawaii's.

Tired of those chronically high costs, Hawaii will begin limiting the wholesale price of gasoline next week, the first such effort in the United States. The price cap won't cover retail sales, so gas station owners will still be able to charge drivers whatever they like. But wholesalers will see their prices set by the state.

The price caps would not force wholesalers and refiners to sell below market costs but seek to prevent gouging -- which many Hawaiians blame for their prices.

With the caps due to take effect Sept. 1, no one quite knows what to expect.

Here's one possibility if you know supply and demand: shortages.