By Greg Jordan
Sunshine and clear skies signal the approach of spring, but for many the clement weather also signifies a future hike in gasoline prices.
For a month, the price for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline has been inching its way up to the $4 mark. According to Monday's edition the AAA Fuel Gauge report, the price for regular gas in Bluefield climbed from $3.44 a month ago to $3.79 Monday. The average price in West Virginia has jumped from $3.48 a month ago to $3.78 Monday.
In Virginia, the average price Monday for regular was $3.61. Motorists filling up at a Bluefield, Va., convenience store where the price was $3.53 a gallon were watching prices heading for the $4 mark.
"It's a lot higher than it was last year," said Charles Thompson, 68, of Bluefield. "I'd hate to see it get up to $4."
Changes in driving habits were in the future as the price continues to climb.
"If it gets too much higher, it probably will," Thompson said.
A Princeton resident who stopped with her grandson to fill up her car's tank noted the nice weather and linked it to gas prices. With good weather comes more travelers and high costs at the pump.
"It's stupid," Virginia, who declined to give her last name, said of the rising cost of fuel. "I know that when it's pretty, prices are going to go up. It's always gone up the last couple of years. And it's hard for the working people, especially the ones with the minimum wages."
One former Bluefield, Va., area resident was planning to come home soon. James Nunn, 63, said he has spent more than 40 years in a hotter climate. Higher gas prices and periodic residents coming in for the winter arrive at the same time every year.
"I'm from Arizona, and every time the snowbirds come in, the gas prices go up," he said.
Lawmakers representing southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia said they were seeking ways to reduce gasoline prices.
"Well, of course, I have supported for a long time using our own resources and being aggressive about it," said U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who added that he has supported offshore drilling near Virginia as early as 2005.
"I also think we need to do what I call "drill, dig, discover and deregulation,'" Griffith added.
Digging and drilling covers coal and natural gas as well as oil, he said. The discover portion covers grants to universities in order to research and discover more efficient ways to use energy and new sources of energy.
"The president was talking about algae. Algae has potential, but it's not ready for prime time," Griffith said. "I don't have any problems looking for new sources, but they're not going to solve this problem even in the next 10 years."
Deregulation calls for not putting so many restrictions on present sources of energy.
"Just in the new regulations that they put out in 2011, we're looking at losing all kinds of jobs that are directly related to coal," Griffith said.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he has various ideas for reducing gasoline prices paid in the state.
"I'm determined to find a solution to reduce gas prices -- both in the short and long term so that West Virginians can make ends meet," he said in a statement to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. "I've already proposed several ideas, such as opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and preventing Wall Street insiders from trying to make an easy profit which can impact the price that struggling families pay for gas. And it's important that we make sure oil companies are not trying to reap profits while West Virginians are paying more for gas. This is an issue we should all be able to rally around as even slight increase have harsh impacts on individuals where every penny counts."
Another representative of West Virginia, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said domestic energy sources need more development.
"With gas prices like today's, those of us who have saying put coal to work are being proven right," Rahall said to the Daily Telegraph. "Family budgets are suffering at the hands of foreign demand, and uncontrolled global stock market speculating continues to drive our domestic gas prices ridiculously higher at a time when we here at home are at peak oil production. These factors make it difficult to apply any quick and meaningful public brakes."
"What we need is good old-fashioned competition to mitigate global meddling in our economy," Rahall said. "I have long advocated for a sustainable, long-term energy policy to reduce our dependence, especially on foreign oil, and continue to support investing in energy research and technologies to take advantage of our nation's domestic energy sources, like coal."
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also advocated doing more to develop domestic energy sources.
"The only thing that will ultimately end our dependence on foreign oil is having a national energy plan that uses all our domestic resources," Manchin said. "I have been pushing for that plan ever since my first day in the senate. But until we have a plan in place, there are immediate steps we can take to lower gas prices."
Manchin said that as much as 25 percent of the price for a barrel of oil is generated by speculators.
"That's why I'm working on legislation to crack down on the rampant speculation that is driving prices through the roof in the short term.," he said. "I'm also supporting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring us oil from our dearest friend and neighbor, Canada. A pipeline into the U.S. with Canadian oil would eliminate the uncertainties that come from buying oil from hostile foreign nations. After all, which speculators are going to bet that Canada is going to threaten to retaliate and cut us off?"