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Gasoline prices fueled concerns locally in '75

| Thursday, July 17, 2008

Can you imagine anyone complaining about gasoline prices well below $1 per gallon•

That's exactly what area service station owners and motorists were doing 33 years ago.

The lead story on Page 1 of The Valley Independent on July 4, 1975, emphasized their concerns with a headline reading, "Area motorists still enjoy 'low' gas costs."

Unlike the furor created by the budget busting prices of gasoline today, the frustration of 1975 was stoked because, according to a United Press International survey, the cost of gasoline "had surged to 65 and 70 cents a gallon" in many parts of the country.

But while the rest of the nation was beginning to feel the effects of higher gasoline costs, motorists in the Mid-Mon Valley "are still enjoying 'low' gas prices," reporter Fred Hevia wrote.

Local Service station owners were reluctant to predict if and when the fuel costs would go up again, Hevia reported, adding, "But a service station owner in Donora said the continued rise ... is resulting in people buying less gasoline and thinking twice about buying new cars."

A survey in the Mid-Mon Valley that morning showed gasoline prices ranged from as low as 42.9 cents per gallon at a station on Route 51 to as high as 58.9 cents per gallon at a station in Donora. On the average, Hevia reported, most stations in Charleroi, Belle Vernon, Monessen and Monongahela were getting 54.9 and 57.9 cents per gallon for regular gasoline.

"Charges that oil companies are manipulating gasoline prices in order to get huge profits will be investigated by the government this week in Washington," Hevia reported. "Despite the 20-cents a gallon increase in gasoline over the past 15 months, service station operators are still making a profit of about six and seven cents a gallon. The increase has gone to the oil companies and the government in forms of taxes."

An unidentified "veteran service station owner" in Rostraver Township told Hevia operators "made five and six cents a gallon on gas 30 years ago and we are still making between five and seven cents a gallon today."

The story also said oil company officials "are not hiding the fact" that the price of gasoline will go into the 60 and 70 cents bracket late this summer and predictions that gasoline will go as high as 90 cents and $1 a gallon by next summer "was not disputed by oil officials."

"They (oil companies) can raise the price of gasoline as much as they want and the government will do nothing," an area station owner lamented to Hevia.

While area service station owners were reluctant to comment on the future of gasoline prices because "they are the mercy of the oil companies who supply the gasoline," motorists in the Mid-Mon Valley were critical of the government in general and President Gerald Ford in particular.

"The government can do something about this if they want to, but the fact that the oil companies control the economy and they contribute to the campaigns of public officials seeking office, the government will do nothing about it," a Monongahela woman charged in an interview with Hevia.

A Donora man contended that the price of gasoline should have been high than 40 cents per gallon but added, "The fact that the oil companies contributed millions of dollars illegally to political campaigns is now paying off for them."

In Rostraver Township, a man feeling the pinch of rising fuel costs charged that gasoline companies "are raising the prices in order to have the government initiate a rationing system."

By rationing gasoline, he claimed, "government and oil concerns can make huge profits by giving gas to whom they please."

While a gasoline shortage did not exist at the time, "proven by the fact that oil companies pressured service station owners to stay open longer hours, the demand has apparently gone down," Hevia reported.

"The prices of gasoline have changed so many times in the past six months that service station owners no longer post the prices on large signs seen from the highway," Hevia wrote.

To emphasize that point, a Rostraver Township service station owner told Hevia he had changed his prices "four times since April of this year."

The UPI story predicted gasoline prices could soar as high as $1 per gallon by Thanksgiving. Most dealers, however, said they felt the costs would peak at between 70 and 75 cents by the end of the year.

A UPI survey showed gasoline sold that weekend at 60 to 65 cents per gallon across the U.S. Regular grade gasoline was as low as 53 cents at self-service or discount stations, but as high as 68 cents at freeway or metropolitan stations, the wire service reported.

In Washington, D.C., President Ford proposed phasing out remaining oil price controls by January 1978 in favor of a new overall price ceiling that would boost the price of gasoline about seven cents per gallon by then.

Ford, UPI reported, said this would be "a small price to pay" to free the nation from dependence on foreign oil producers.

Wonder what they would think about filling your tank while emptying your wallet today!

If you have memories to share or a story idea, contact Ron Paglia at ronpaglia@verizon.net or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.

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