Gas prices top $4 per gallon, fuel sticker shock

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Average gas prices topped $4 a gallon in Washington, D.C., for only the fifth time ever on Thursday, the 35th straight day of increases that have seen prices rise by a total 42 cents.

Although the cost of a gallon of gas in the D.C. suburbs is about 16 cents cheaper, the prices are above the national average of $3.78.

Numbers from the Oil Price Information Service showed that, as of Thursday morning, only three states had touched the $4 regular gasoline mark — New York at $4.01, California at $4.20 and Hawaii at $4.32 — while only three other states had gas prices below $3.50. The rest hovered close to the $4 mark.

John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the trend was particularly disturbing because of the time of year.

“Typically, gasoline prices are at their lowest price point of the year during the dead of winter,” he said. “But this year pump prices are rising sooner and higher than ever before. That’s what so frightening about this.”

A service station attendant pumps gas in Portland, Ore., in February 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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A service station attendant pumps gas in Portland, Ore., in February 2012. ... more >

Officials blamed several factors, from eight East Coast refineries being shut down for maintenance and a few shuttered for good, to prospects for growing demand in China and the United States as the global economy slowly rebounds from ongoing tumult in the Middle East.

The high prices are not just having an effect at gas stations.

On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers pounced on the uptick to promote the need for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The massive conduit would bring Canadian oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

It’s still under review by the Obama administration, but the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday introduced a “Keystone Clock,” a live timekeeper that monitors, down to the second, how much time has passed since the project was first submitted for approval on Sept. 19, 2008 — when gasoline averaged $3.78 a gallon.

The committee’s webpage calls the pipeline a symbol “of the president’s failed energy policies.”

While debate about the project rages on Capitol Hill over environmentalism and the economy, vehicle owners in many states are simply worried about how long their wallets would stay full.

In Southern California, a record one-month jump had motorists shelling out $4.20 for a gallon of regular gas.

The Automobile Club of Southern California said prices have risen by 57 cents in the past month and have gone up by more than 11 cents since last week.

Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring said a jump like that hadn’t been seen since 2008, a year in which gas prices skyrocketed across the country.

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