Last Friday, the average price of gasoline in Montauk reached a whopping $4.69 per gallon, the second-highest price in New York State, according to Oil Price Information Service, a company that tracks petroleum pricing.
That same day, nine communities on the East End were in the top 100 average highest gas prices among the 870 communities surveyed by OPIS. Amagansett was number four, with gas at an average of about $4.46 a gallon. Westhampton Beach and Sag Harbor villages were numbers 12 and 13, respectively, with gas there priced at about $4.36. Southampton was number 64, with gas at an average of about $4.24.
The average price of gas nationwide was high in recent weeks but has been stabilizing in the last few days and is now hovering at around $3.82 a gallon. Still, East End residents haven’t stopped feeling the pinch at the pump.
The costs of transporting gasoline to Long Island and the wealthy demographic of communities on the East End could explain why prices here are so high, according to Robert Sinclair Jr., the manager of media relations for AAA New York. Recent closures of nearby oil refineries is another reason gas prices are higher in the Northeast compared to other parts of the country, he said.
What’s really needed to address high gas prices is a new approach to fuel efficiency, say some. Gordian Raacke, the executive director of the non-profit group Renewable Energy Long Island in East Hampton, said he bikes to work every morning from Northwest Woods to East Hampton Village—a commute of about 12 minutes. He drives a Toyota Prius, a fuel-efficient hybrid car, but even he has noticed the rise in prices.
Mr. Raacke said he believes society needs to make a greater commitment to fuel efficiency. As a native of Germany, he said there’s more of an emphasis on cleaner methods of transportation in Europe, more bike lanes and bikers. It’s not uncommon to see older citizens biking to the grocery store, he said. It’s also rare to see SUVs.
“One thing is very clear—we are addicted to fossil fuels, and that includes gasoline, and our very wasteful use of gasoline drives up demand unnecessarily and therefore can drive up prices,” he said.
High gas prices have made their way into the national political dialogue, with Republicans pushing for more domestic drilling. But some experts say there isn’t much the government can do in the short term to significantly lower prices.
“It’s disingenuous to try and say that there’s anything that can be done by anyone or any number of elected officials to affect gasoline prices,” said Mr. Sinclair. “You are seeing things that are the result of market conditions.”
Oil is a commodity that is subject to the whims of the global market, according to U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, a Democrat. Speculation and trading also greatly influence the price of a barrel of oil. On the federal level, Mr. Bishop said, he sponsored a bill about a year ago called the Taxpayer and Gas Price Relief Act, which would repeal $40 billion in tax breaks currently given to the top five oil companies over the course of ten years. The bill has been awaiting action in the appropriate committees, Mr. Bishop said, but he also acknowledged that with the Republican majority in the House, it’s “highly unlikely” the measure will go anywhere.
Prices of gas vary widely across the state despite attempts to equalize it: the lowest price reported was about $3.89 in Irving last week, and the highest, $4.81, was in Armonk. State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said he has tried to address the disparity by sponsoring legislation in 2008 that was later signed into law making it illegal for gas retailers to charge different prices in different communities. He’s now looking to strengthen the current zone pricing legislation and close some loopholes based on recent recommendations for amendments by the state attorney general’s office. Both he and New York State Senator James S. Alesi of Rochester, who has sponsored similar legislation in the Senate, are working on moving the bills to the floor for a vote this year, although, Mr. Thiele said, they’re encountering “stiff opposition from the oil companies.”
New York State taxes on gas contribute to the high price, making it sometimes 40 to 50 cents higher than neighboring New Jersey, he said. According to an anecdotal survey Mr. Thiele has been conducting each month this year, on Saturday, April 28, the average price of gas between Southampton and East Hampton towns was $4.15 per gallon. The average North Fork price was $4.05 per gallon.
“Prices had increased dramatically between February and April, by up to 40 cents,” Mr. Thiele stated in a press release. “Prices stabilized in the month of April. However, prices on the South Fork did not decline as they did in other parts of Long Island and New York State. Prices on the South Fork are now 5 cents higher than the LI average, 5 cents higher than the New York State average.”