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    Midwest Pump Prices Surge

    Higher costs follow output reduction by area refiners and a Citgo refinery fire.

    For the first time since the Midwest supply crunch last summer, motorists in Illinois and Wisconsin are paying the highest pump prices in the U.S. -- and gasoline prices in other heartland states aren't far behind, the American Automobile Association (AAA) said yesterday.

    The jump comes on the heels of a decline in refinery production, sparked by a fire at a Citgo refinery in Lemont, Ill., that could dent output by at least six weeks.

    "The industry was holding back supply just as demand for fuel started rising. And now we have a total refinery outage in Illinois," said AAA spokesman Geoff Sundstrom. "We're in a situation where Midwest states seem to be tight for fuel."

    Gasoline prices in Illinois and Wisconsin have jumped 20 cents in a month to $1.60 a gallon -- a penny higher than in California and 17 cents higher than the national average, according to the AAA daily survey of 60,000 service stations, the report said.
    Prices in Michigan, Ohio, and as far as Oklahoma have also risen roughly 20 cents in the past four weeks, with the greatest spikes seen in recent days.

    Last year's increase, which reached as high as $2.75 a gallon in some Midwestern cities, was spurred by the shutdown of a pipeline that transports fuel from Texas and Louisiana. The hike triggered a federal investigation into price fixing, which eventually found no wrongdoing by oil companies.

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