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State legislators are struggling to offset rising gas prices

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Drivers say they can only reduce their car usage to fight rising gas prices in the Bay Area ahead of the holiday weekend. Lawmakers met on Thursday to study the issue, and experts warned that identifying the main contributors to fuel price hikes would not be easy.

“It’s really tough, especially for me, I’m commuting from the East Bay to San Francisco,” said Josh Hernandez, a Pinole resident who works in the city. “It’s crazy right now, $7.19, my price, I can’t do it.”

Some residents say they saved fuel before the Fourth of July but worry that short-term fixes like stopping gas tax hikes or offering relief payments won’t make a difference.

“It’s scary. In fact, you try not to drive as much, you try to walk when you can because the gas prices are crazy,” said Wendy Miles, a San Francisco resident. “We’re out today but we haven’t been driving for the last two days because it’s too expensive.”

The California State Assembly’s Select Committee on Gasoline Supply & Pricing held its first meeting Thursday to discuss what can be done about gas prices that have risen by $2 in just a few months. Temporary solutions are not enough to help consumers, he said.

“Many Californians are left saying gas prices are too high,” said Assemblyman Jacqui Irwin, a Thousand Oaks Democrat who also chairs the committee.

Severin Borenstein, a professor at the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, testified before the committee. Current prices of gasoline are the highest they have been in nearly 20 years, he said. He noted other factors not unique to this current increase, including the cost of doing business in California.

“If we had a crystal ball, we might be able to push it down a little bit but I think that path is so fraught that the potential costs outweigh the benefits,” he told the committee.

He explained that there is an additional cost due to the relative supply of fuel available but he does not know how much can be fairly passed on to consumers. Any proposed regulation on prices would need to address supply, he said.

“Where’s the solution? You know, what are we going to do about it? Who’s making the decision that we’re going to lower prices?” Miles said. “It helps but it doesn’t solve the problem. Eventually it gets used up and then you’re back to higher prices again.”

Those who fill in at the pump agree that the rebate check won’t help long-term, and so lawmakers need to investigate what can be done after this summer.

Borenstein said lawmakers should identify which regulations and restrictions are causing the increase and then address them with new policy. Those most affected by gas prices are low-income households and those hurt by the cost of utilities and rent, he said.

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