Gasoline prices for Marylanders jumped at least 6 cents per gallon in the past month. More than half of that increase stemmed from government rules to reduce auto-caused air pollution. New Year's Day will bring more bad news -- another expected price increase that could be as much as a dime a gallon -- from further federal requirements.
Nigerian oilworker strikes, Middle East jitters and domestic pipeline ruptures have already pushed up the price in Maryland by another 10 cents over the past six months. That's a market reaction to actual supplies of oil or predictions of shortages. After all, oil is freely traded worldwide at prices closely tied to supply and demand.
But government rules are increasingly forcing Maryland motorists to pay more for gasoline, through mandates for cleaner-burning fuel. This is in addition to tougher, costlier biennial auto emission inspections, two-year auto tag fees and proposed requirements for more expensive California-type cars.
The government is requiring a special oxygen-rich gasoline in Maryland and eight other states for cleaner burning of pollutants. It's not world petroleum prices, or supply and demand, that is now boosting the price at the pump in these parts.
For two years now, Maryland has been using a type of oxygenated gasoline, required by Washington, to reduce carbon monoxide pollution between November and March. It costs a nickel a gallon more than gas sold elsewhere. With the switch to reformulated oxygen-rich fuel in January, Maryland prices may rise a bit less than in other areas, but prices won't drop back down in the spring as they have previously.
Coupled with the new state auto emission inspection system that begins in January -- which will double the current fees and require up to $450 in repairs -- the higher-priced gas will raise the cost of living for Marylanders, without being adequately reflected in government inflation indexes.
Some of Maryland's neighbor states are not using the more expensive gasoline; no neighboring state has rushed to install the controversial auto-exhaust inspection system that Maryland has.
Public opposition to the new emissions testing system for Central Maryland has been slow to build. Perhaps many people were resigned to the inevitability of higher auto costs and requirements. Or perhaps there was concern that the local economy would be hurt worse by forcing tighter pollution controls on businesses instead of on auto owners.
As these higher costs for Maryland motorists take effect, the public should demand hard evidence of cleaner air. The introduction of cold-weather oxygenated fuel in this area two years ago has yet to show conclusive results; replacing older cars with cleaner-running new ones has been more effective. For now, however, motorists must pay more for government's hope that its schemes will improve air quality for all in this state.