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    Gas Prices Rise More Than 30 Cents in One Month

    Prices rise on the West Coast due to mischievous animals; consumer group protests the claim and rising prices.

    NEW YORK -- The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.49, up more than 30 cents from last month's average, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).

    The cause for the increase may be because refiners are currently making warm-weather fuels, which are more expensive, Spokesman Geoff Sundstrom told the Miami Herald. However, the increase arrived earlier this year than usual, he added.

    Analysts point to an increase in crude oil prices that is causing the increase to trickle down to the pumps. Crude oil prices are up due to falling inventories -- down 4.85 million barrels last week, according to the Energy Department, Bloomberg News reported. Crude for April delivery rose to $61.67 a barrel yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

    "The big decline [in inventories] was a surprise to everyone,'' William Adams, chief energy and capital market strategist at LaSalle Futures Group Inc. in Chicago, told Bloomberg News. "We were expecting that since the refineries were down we just wouldn't be using that crude.''

    Meanwhile, local factors seem to be affecting the price of gas on the West Coast. Gasoline prices edged up in California due to a pair of meddling animals -- a raccoon and an opossum -- that separately caused electrical power disruptions that triggered power outages at Los Angeles-area refineries, making wholesale gas prices jump seven cents when word got out on Monday morning, Rueters reported.

    An opossum in a Southern California Edison commercial customer substation and a raccoon in a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power substation caused power interruptions at the refineries within an hour of each other over the weekend, the report stated.

    Animals affecting substations is not uncommon, Hughes said. Animals can chew cables or form connections between two circuits, resulting in power upsets. "You never know how they will get into stuff," she added.

    The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights (FTCR) spoke out against the price spike, calling the death of the two animals "an April Fools Day hoax" that it could cause gas prices to jump so rapidly.

    "If they are going to be serious about it, so are we," said Judy Dugan, research director for the FTCR. "Only in a market that is deliberately kept short of gasoline stocks could a pair of small mammals cause motorists a couple of million dollars at the pump. And only oil companies and speculators could think that motorists are dumb enough to believe the blame stops with the wildlife."

    The FTCR has actively spoken out against the gasoline marketplace on the West Coast before. A 46 cent price gap between the U.S. average price for gasoline and California's was more than can be accounted for by the state's slightly higher gasoline taxes, the group said in February after spokesmen and analysts accused a glitch at a Texas refinery for the price hike.

    "When a burp at a Texas refinery can be blamed for a price leap in California -- but not in Texas or elsewhere in the nation, that is proof of a supply chain seriously out of whack," said Dugan in February. "If oil companies won't increase their refinery capacity and gasoline storage in the state, government must do it. Otherwise California drivers will remain the oil industry's pick-pocketing victims."

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