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What we do and don't know about high gas prices in Washington state

caption: Car getting gas at a gas station in the University District July 19, 2023
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Car getting gas at a gas station in the University District July 19, 2023
Juan Pablo Chiquiza

According to AAA, the average price per gallon today in Washington state is $4.93. It's the highest average cost of gas in the nation, beating out California by about $.04 per gallon.

So what do you tell your out-of-town family when they ask why gas prices are so high?

"It's quite complicated, and there are a number of factors; it is most likely temporary," said Scott Montgomery, a geoscientist and lecturer at the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International studies. "But what does temporary mean? Unclear."

Montgomery cites a number of reasons why gas might be more expensive. There's the blend of gasoline for summer and ongoing maintenance on the primary source of gasoline for Western Washington, the Olympic Pipeline.

There's also Washington State's new "Cap and Invest" program.

"It's difficult to say at this particular point, how much of an impact that has on our high prices, but it does have an impact," Montgomery said. "When you put a carbon pricing scheme into place, it's going to raise the costs for both the refiners and the distributors."

Montgomery said that cost is often passed down to the consumers.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has pushed back on this idea that the carbon credit program is the main driver for higher gas prices. He points out that the maintenance on the Olympic oil pipeline is a big deal right now. And also the oil and gas companies in Washington State are profiting some of the most in the country right now.

Regardless, Montgomery said that Washington state is on the leading edge of the movement away from gasoline.

"What we're looking at is a movement towards pricing carbon, and urging consumers to move towards hybrid and electric vehicles. I'm not saying that everything is perfect," Montgomery said. "It's going to be a difficult transition and it will take decades for sure."

Listen to the full interview with Scott Montgomery by clicking the play button above.

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