LOCALIZE IT: Ideas for local coverage of soaring fuel prices

Via AP news wire
Monday 23 May 2022 20:49

EDITORS/NEWS DIRECTORS:

What a difference a year makes: This week in 2021, the national average for a gallon of regular-grade gasoline was $2.49 — and now it's nearly $4.60.

Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional start to the summer driving season, when individuals and families hit the road. But traveling any distance by car, van, pickup or — heaven forbid — a thirsty RV or camper is going to cost a bundle.

You'll pay far more than that in places like the San Francisco Bay area, where a gallon of regular-grade gas will set you back $6.07 on average, the highest in the U.S., according to the latest survey by the American Automobile Club released Monday. Or you might avoid the worst of it in Oklahoma, which AAA says has the nation's cheapest gas with an average price per gallon of $4.03.

Gasoline has either remained flat or risen every day since April 24 and has set a new record daily since May 10, AAA says. The price per gallon is now above $4 in all 50 states.

Adjusted for inflation, Americans are still paying less than they did in July 2008. The peak then would be about $5.24 a gallon in today’s dollars.

There are ample opportunities to localize this story, which touches every American family and business. Local stories could run alongside the AP story US—Gas Prices and other spot coverage. Also please note that this is an updated version of a Localize It guide that ran on March 8 under the slug US--Russia-Ukraine War-Localize It.

WHY ARE FUEL PRICES STILL RISING?

Experts say the pain at the pump is coming amid higher crude oil costs and tight gasoline supplies, in part because of the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden banned imports of Russian oil, which drove up gas and home heating oil prices which were already soaring before the war began.

Oil prices were high even before Russia's invasion, because the global economy is demanding more fuel after disruptions to travel and manufacturing from the pandemic.

“Gasoline is $1.19 more than it was the week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” said Mary Maguire, AAA's director of public and government affairs for the Northeast. “That sent shock waves through the oil market that have kept oil costs elevated. Domestically, meanwhile, seasonal gas demand is rising as more drivers hit the road, despite the pain they face paying at the pump.”

Inflation is rising to its highest rates in decades, driving up prices not only for gas but for food, rent and a wide array of consumer goods and services, raising the specter of a recession.

As prices rise, they threaten to further squeeze consumers, businesses, financial markets and the wider global economy.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Oil prices seemed destined to send the average gallon of U.S. gasoline past $5 a gallon — a scenario that Biden and other political figures are desperate to avoid.

Contact gas stations and home heating companies, and ask them about persistent suspicions among many ordinary Americans that they're engaging in price gouging.

Questions to ask ordinary drivers:

— Have high prices at the pump prompted you to postpone or cancel plans for a vacation that would have involved a lot of driving? If so, what's your Plan B for getting away by yourself or with your family?

— How long is your commute, and how much more money are you spending to get to and from work, or to visit family and friends? Are you having difficulty filling your tank? Are there things you’re having to skip — coffee, snacks, meals out — to compensate?

— Are you considering carpooling or public transit if those are more affordable options?

Think about businesses that might be affected. Some questions to ask:

— RESTAURANTS: Are fewer people going out to eat? Are restaurants in your area that used to deliver orders for free now charging?

— CAR WASHES AND AUTO REPAIR SHOPS: Have people stopped taking their cars to the car wash? Are they putting off visits to repair shops to save money?

— FACTORIES: How are rising fuel prices affecting their operations? Are they cutting back on operations or eliminating shifts to cut costs?

— FARMS: Agriculture is heavily dependent on diesel and other fuel for tractors, combines and other machinery. Are rising costs prompting delays in preparing fields for spring planting? Are local farmers concerned they’ll have to pass on some of those costs to consumers? If that happens, how might produce prices increase at the grocery store?

CHEAPER TRANSPORTATION

Contact local auto dealerships and ask if they’ve seen renewed interest in more fuel-efficient makes and models.

Questions to ask dealers:

— What kinds of cars are getting a new look from prospective buyers feeling pinched at the pumps? Are you seeing resurgent interest in hybrids or electric vehicles?

— Is interest still high in SUVs, trucks and other fuel-thirsty types of vehicles? Or have you seen a shift away from those kinds of vehicles, which seem to have become American favorites regardless of gasoline prices? What about RVs and campers, which sold briskly earlier in the pandemic — is that still the case?

HELPFUL RESOURCES

The auto club AAA tracks gasoline prices by state and provides the national average at any given time: https://gasprices.aaa.com/state-gas-price-averages/. Go to https://gasprices.aaa.com/?state=US and hover over your state. Click on your state to see how today’s price compares with yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, and a year ago.

— Ask AAA, GasBuddy, the Oil Price Information Service or other experts — maybe a professor in your state who follows energy policy — why your state’s price is higher or lower than the national average. Regional differences in prices could be due to state gas taxes and fuel standards, a relative lack of refining capacity or other factors.

— Ask those same experts if they expect prices to keep rising in your area, and why.

— How much per gallon is your state’s gas tax or other relevant taxes, and are lawmakers or your governor proposing to give motorists relief? Some states have suspended gas taxes to give drivers a little relief at the pump.

— Use data from the Census Bureau to find the median income in your area. Communities with relatively low median incomes are going to be hit much harder than more affluent areas.

___

Localize It is an occasional feature produced by The Associated Press for its customers’ use. Questions can be directed to William J. Kole at bkole@ap.org or Ted Anthony at tanthony@ap.org.

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