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    Consumers Suspect Gouging

    A study finds consumers suspect foul play and plan to change summer driving habits.

    NEW YORK -- As gas prices rise ahead of the summer driving season, a new study by the Opinion Research Corp. (ORC) found that most Americans feel they are suffering gas price gouging and will cut back on summer travel plans and general spending if prices climb to $3.50 per gallon or more.

    The survey, conducted for the nonprofit Civil Society Institute (CSI) and its 40MPG.org project, also found the majority of consumers expect gasoline to reach $3.50 a gallon this summer, and want action from the government on increased federal fuel-efficiency standards for cars and other vehicles.

    The survey also found that an increasing number of Americans are inclined to buy hybrids or other highly fuel-efficient vehicles.

    The survey's results were revealed the same day the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) accused oil companies of "ineptness and greed" and blamed them for supply shortages on the West Coast that is causing the price per gallon to reach $3.40 in some areas.

    "Oil companies that have refused to increase refinery capacity...took refineries out of service for longer-than-usual maintenance...but refused to import gasoline to make up the difference," said Judy Dugan, research director of FTCR and OilWatchdog.org. "Then they have the gall to behave as though gasoline prices are an act of fate, not the shortage that they created."

    The group also cited large profits on the parts of ExxonMobil and Chevron that were announced last month for the first quarter of fiscal 2007. ExxonMobil recorded a 10-percent gain on profits, thanks to higher refining, marketing and chemical profit margins that more than offset lower crude oil and natural gas prices, CSNews Online reported last week. Chevron saw profit rise 18 percent, due to asset sales and high refining margins, The Associated Press reported last week.

    "Crude oil is backing up at U.S. refineries, waiting to be made into gasoline," Dugan added. "It is stark evidence that government and regulators must step in to oversee and regulate both refinery capacity and supplies of gasoline. Otherwise this cycle of ever-higher pump prices and ever-higher oil company profits will continue while both individual motorists and the national economy keep paying the price."

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