WASHINGTON – U.S. retail gasoline prices increased over the last week to the highest level since last June, while fuel costs in the Midwest -- normally plagued by price spikes -- actually declined, the Energy Department reported on Monday.
The pump price for gasoline jumped 0.7 cents to $1.626, up 21 cents from a year ago, based on the department's weekly survey of 800 service stations nationwide.
The latest price is already far above the $1.52 summer peak the department has forecast would be reached in June.
Historically low gasoline supplies, coupled with strong consumer demand, have pushed fuel prices higher.
The most recent data from the Energy Department shows U.S. gasoline inventories at 194 million barrels, down 13 million barrels from a year ago and far below average levels for this time of year.
The Energy Department has warned that prices could go even higher if fuel supplies are disrupted from a sudden refinery shutdown or pipeline problems.
A refinery fire at Tosco Corp's Wood River facility in Illinois helped push wholesale gasoline prices in New York futures trading on Monday to an all-time high of just over $1.16 a gallon. It was the third consecutive trading day that gasoline set a new record high, and the rising prices will soon likely be reflected at the pump.
Motorists on the West Coast paid the most for gasoline, with prices in the region averaging $1.734 a gallon, up 2.8 cents. Consumers in the lower Atlantic states paid the least, with prices there dropping about a penny to $1.534 a gallon.
Conventional gasoline prices also declined a penny in the Midwest to $1.663 a gallon, and cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline there fell 2.6 cents to $1.764.
The price for diesel fuel fell one-tenth of a penny to $1.442 nationwide, though it was up 2.4 cents from a year ago.
Truckers on the West Coast continued to pay the most for diesel fuel at $1.557 a gallon, half a penny higher from last week, while Gulf Coast states had the cheapest diesel at $1.39 a gallon, also up half a penny.
The Bush administration said on Monday it was working on a long-term plan to solve U.S. energy problems, but emphasized there is no short-term solution for high gasoline costs and other energy prices.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said low-income Americans in particular have been ``hit by the rising price of energy, (and) the rising price of gasoline to pump in their cars.''