Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Holding under fire for gas price disparity

Attorney general questioning oil magnates

Express Staff Writer

Earl Holding, Sun Valley Co. owner and president and CEO of Sinclair Oil, is one of five oil tycoons being questioned by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden regarding the high gasoline prices throughout the state.

"Dear Mr. Holding: I write on behalf of Idaho's consumers and businesses concerning the extraordinary high prices your company is currently charging for its products in Idaho," Wasden wrote in a letter dated Sept. 14. "My office is receiving numerous complaints regarding the prices being charged for gasoline throughout our state.

"Comparing Idaho with other states in our region, I cannot find any reasonable explanation for the price disparity in Idaho."

Gas prices in Idaho remained the highest in the contiguous United States on Tuesday at $2.89 a gallon. The national average was $2.48 a gallon.

Wasden sent similar letters to Flying J Inc., Shell Oil Products, Tesoro Corp. and Chevron USA Inc. The letters were also forwarded to Idaho's legislative leadership and Idaho's congressional delegation.

In his letter to Holding, Wasden noted that between Aug. 10 and Sept. 7, Sinclair's gas prices in Boise dropped from $2.46 a gallon to $2.36 a gallon—a decrease of about 4 percent. Meanwhile, over the same time period, gas prices in Denver dropped 18 percent from $2.51 to $2.06. Prices in Billings, Mont., and Casper, Wyo., fell 14.51 percent, and 13.03 percent, respectively, during that stretch.

Wasden said Idaho's elected officials, consumers and businesses "are extremely concerned about the high rack prices," and it's "in everyone's best interest, including Sinclair's, to sell gasoline in Idaho at a price that does not damage Idaho's economy."

Wasden said he expects to hear from Holding by or before Sept. 30.

"I would appreciate an explanation regarding the pricing disparity and what Sinclair can do to address the concerns expressed above," Wasden wrote.

Bud Blackmore, senior vice president of marketing for Utah-based Sinclair Oil, said Wasden's letter had been received and Sinclair "will comply with the request to respond."

Blackmore blamed Idaho's market for the high gas prices.

"The Idaho market is slower to respond when prices go up and slower to respond when prices go down," he said. "Sixty days ago, Idaho had some of the lowest gasoline prices in the nation."

The Sinclair station in Sun Valley was charging $2.85 a gallon on Tuesday. Gas at the Chevron in Hailey was $2.89 a gallon.

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