WASHINGTON – Gas prices are starting to creep up again in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. One way to get an idea of how and why the prices are changing is through the eyes of Jim Filby, who owns a gas station in Alexandria, Va.
Filby's Sunoco station needs a gas fill-up every three days. To find his price, he hops onto the Internet first thing each day.
"We check the oil companies' prices when it comes every day as far as price changes," Filby said.
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Around 6 a.m., Filby gets his manager to check out what other local operators are doing.
"He'll go up the street, check the Independent, check the Sunoco ... and then go down Four Mile Road and look at all the prices, and it determines whether we make a move," Filby said.
Filby's station is full service, with attendants who pump gas, wash windows and fill tires. To offset some of his extra labor costs, he charges an extra $.02 per gallon above the highest neighborhood price.
"If we don't sell it competitively, we're not going to sell gas," Filby said.
"Retail gasoline prices are rising faster than crude oil prices," following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic (search).
The company reported Tuesday that the Washington, D.C., area and Hawaii now have the highest prices in the nation, averaging more than $3.00 a gallon.
"We fear, and our members suspect, that excessively opportunistic profit taking may well be the real explanation," Townsend added.
Even President Bush's (search) gas expenses are on the rise. Though the president's motorcade has been shortened, Air Force One's fuel costs have risen to more than $6,000 per hour, up from just under $4,000 last year.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., accused big oil companies of price gouging and profiteering after Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday.
"Everyone understands after Katrina, supply and demand would have the price of oil go up, but why did the profits go up?" Schumer asked.
Schumer and other Democratic senators noted that AAA has received a growing number of complaints about suspected gas price gouging and asked the Senate Commerce Committee to investigate allegations in order to hold oil companies accountable for rising prices.
Schumer also asked Bush to hold open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (search), which he uncapped after Katrina, to deter companies from taking advantage of natural disasters and volatile markets.
"For at least the next three months, the president should deploy the SPR to control prices, but this administration must also make certain that big oil companies aren't reaping windfall profits in the wake of these disasters," Schumer said.
Filby explained that the growth in profits must be going somewhere else. In one week, his price rose 60 cents even though supplies remained steady. Filby said he doesn't know why prices are rising, but he said he does knows his profits certainly aren't following suit.
"I don't know. I mean, I can't answer that question. All I know is my margin stays the same," Filby said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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