Soaring prices at the pump fuel plan for `great gas out'

One-day boycott of service stations called for April 30


LOS ANGELES -- In the face of skyrocketing gasoline prices, a grass-roots protest dubbed The Great American Gas Out is spreading like wildfire across the Internet and gaining credibility as politicians line up to support the boycott.

With gas prices leaping an average of 43 cents per gallon in California and 14 cents nationwide during the past month, The Great American Gas Out is urging drivers to turn their backs on the pumps for one day, April 30.

"We are all sick and tired of high prices when there are literally millions of gallons in storage," blares a widely circulating e-mail promoting the protest. "Know what I found out? If there was just ONE day when no one purchased any gasoline, prices would drop dramatically. Let's have a GAS OUT! Do not buy any gasoline on April 30, 1999!"

The rabble-rousers responsible for the e-mail remain unknown.

While gasoline industry experts and economists argue that a one-day boycott isn't likely to send prices plummeting, noting that organizers urge drivers to buy gas the day before or after the protest, the idea has caught on.

Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs jumped into the hoopla Friday, introducing a proposal to have the city go on record in support of the April 30 boycott.

"The present dramatic increase has stirred up frustration and anger similar to that of the energy crisis during the 1970s," Wachs said. "An angry public is demanding solutions. They want their voices heard."

The city councilman said he hopes The Great American Gas Out will send a message to oil companies.

"I'll join the boycott. Sign me up," Emily Charles said as she filled the tank of her gas-guzzling Chevy Tahoe sport-utility vehicle at an Arco station in Woodland Hills.

"It sounds like a good idea and it might show them we don't want to pay so much for gas," Charles said.

But Paul Langland, spokesman for Arco in Los Angeles, wasn't rattled by the mounting protest movement.

"That's why we live in America. People have the right to protest," he said.

Langland refused to predict what effect the boycott would have on prices. He did offer a suggestion for a better way to curb gas costs.

"The better protest is to buy your gas at the station with the lowest price in the neighborhood. That creates competition, which will drive the prices down."

Arco and other oil companies just don't get it, according to the creators of two Web sites -- and -- that are fanning the flames of protest.

"The protest is the important thing," said David Griswold, 33, a computer systems worker in the Silicon Valley who launched three weeks ago after receiving the anonymous e-mail.

"If millions participate, someone will sit up and notice. We're looking to draw media attention to the problem and let politicians know we're angry about this."

The Web site has received between 200 and 300 visitors a day, and includes a chronology of recent price increases, as well as links to legislation introduced to combat the increase.

The latest nationwide review of 10,000 gas stations by the Lundberg Survey showed the average price was nearly $1.23 a gallon. Three weeks ago, it was $1.09, and in late February it was 99.8 cents.

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