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Gasoline prices set record
AAA says average per gallon prices tops $1.738 per gallon, edging mark set last August.
March 23, 2004: 2:52 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNNfn) - The average price of gasoline at the pump has hit a record high of $1.738 a regular self-serve gallon, according to the Automobile Association of America.

The record high on AAA's daily Fuel Gauge Report surpasses the previous record, $1.737, hit last August. The average climbed 0.7 cent overnight.

California leads the nation at $2.141 a gallon for regular gas, followed by Hawaii at $2.111 and Nevada at $2.057. Those looking for cheap gas might stop in Oklahoma for fuel at $1.604 a gallon, Georgia at $1.607 and South Carolina also at $1.607 a gallon.

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The report cited familiar factors for the increase, which has become a major concern for motorists.

Among the factors listed are rising consumption, insufficient refining capacity, complicated federal and state clean fuel regulations and chronically low inventories.

Oil producer group OPEC, which controls roughly half of the world's exported crude, is also mulling a new reduction in supplies starting April 1, adding to a series of cuts that recently brought oil prices to nearly $40 a barrel.

"The role of OPEC in these high prices is substantial this year," AAA spokesman Geoff Sunstrom told Reuters.

The U.S. government on Monday predicted prices would average a record $1.83 per gallon in April and May during the run-up to the summer driving season when Americans typically take to the roads.

Energy Information Administration chief Guy Caruso said at an oil industry meeting in San Antonio on Monday that he was "really concerned" about thin U.S. gasoline inventories, which are running about 13 million barrels lower than the agency had projected.

The volatile gasoline landscape has drawn the attention of lawmakers from both political parties, making it a likely issue in this presidential election year.

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Oil and gas refiners have denied using any anti-competitive practices, instead blaming high prices on tight supplies caused by dozens of different gasoline-blending rules for metropolitan areas and the lack of enough imports of the motor fuel.

AAA added in its release that state and federal government officials need to take another look at policies that have resulted in more than 15 different varieties of gasoline being used across the United States each summer.

"While these 'boutique' fuels have helped clean the air, they also have seriously hampered the efficient production and distribution of gasoline," AAA said.

AAA is the largest motorist and travel group in the United States, with about 47 million members.  Top of page

--Reuters contributed to this report

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