WASHINGTON – Americans could be paying more than $3 per gallon for gasoline this summer, and the White House says they shouldn't look to Washington for relief.
With the nation's average gas price increasing 8.58 cents over the last two weeks to an all-time high of $1.76, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday there's not much President Bush, or any president, can do.
"If any politician has a magic wand that they can wave over gas prices to lower them, the president ... would like to listen to them," Fleischer told reporters.
The Midwest and West were being hit hardest at the pump, where Shell and Chevron dealers in California and Chicago said they should prepare for prices to hit $3 a gallon this summer, USA Today reported.
But Fleischer said Bush is opposed to price controls and that the administration is instead focusing on long-term solutions to shortages in gasoline supply. The White House is due to release a new, comprehensive energy policy this month.
"The president is very concerned about the rise of the price of gasoline. It's tantamount to a tax increase on the American people and that's one reason why it's so important for the nation to have an energy policy that reflects the challenges the nation is facing," Fleischer said.
Bush did not support cutting the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax during the presidential campaign, and his energy policy will not offer immediate relief at the pump.
"He has never sought a quick fix because quick fixes don't work," Fleischer said. "The problem America has with energy is that politicians have been so enraptured with quick fixes they have forgotten the real people in the long term."
According to the Lundberg Survey of 8,000 service stations nationwide, the nation's average price of gas has surged 5 percent from April 20. Analyst Trilby Lundberg said that when adjusted for inflation, Friday's price was a full dollar less than the average cost of gasoline in March 1981. She did not adjust the figures for inflation, however.
In the Midwest, prices rose 13 cents; prices rose 8 cents for drivers in the West. Those two regions fared worst in part because of the reformulated gasoline they rely on to limit pollution, Lundberg said.
In addition, a fire at an Illinois refinery last weekend aggravated production problems. U.S. refineries have been operating at 98 percent of capacity, Lundberg said.
The survey found the highest prices in Chicago, where a gallon of self-service regular cost $2.02. San Francisco was just two cents behind, while Atlanta paid the lowest prices at $1.46 a gallon.
Lundberg said she expected improving gasoline supplies to reduce or eliminate further price increases in the next few weeks.
Fleischer said the gas price problem is due to the lack of an energy policy the last five to 10 years, pointing a finger not only at President Clinton but also at the first Bush administration.
"I picked those years carefully," Fleischer said. "This is not a matter of partisan politics. This is a matter of a nation that has not had in place an energy policy to deal with the fundamental imbalances in America's supply and demand."
He said Bush will address the lack of refineries and transportation infrastructure, along with conservation measures. But Fleischer conceded that the Bush plan won't address short-term problems.
"If politicians keep moving from one quick fix to the other, the nation will never get out of its energy crisis," he said. He said Bush will focus on "the longer term [solutions], rather than the political."
Bush "will resist the siren song of moving from one short-term solution to another," Fleischer said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.