By Bay City News Service
The California Air Resources Board announced Sunday evening that it is easing certain restrictions on gasoline production in response to a directive issued by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Brown ordered the board to allow refineries to switch to a gasoline blend that is normally only used in winter in an effort to lower gas prices.
The order, issued Sunday, directed the board to take whatever steps are necessary to authorize refineries to make an early switch to winter-blend gasoline.
The blend, which isn't normally sold until after Oct. 31, evaporates more quickly than summer blend and is worse for air quality during the smog season, according to state officials.
However, an early transition to it could increase the state's fuel supply by an estimated 8 to 10 percent with a negligible air quality impact, Brown said. Due to its composition, refiners can produce more of the winter blend.
Sunday evening, in response to the governor's order, the California Air Resources Board announced that it will allow the manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of the winter-grade gasoline.
State officials said the recent spike in gas prices, which has seen gas prices above $5 a gallon in some areas, has been fueled in part by recent disruptions in gas production, including at an Exxon refinery in Southern California.
However, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said that even with the disruptions, gas production in the state this week remained nearly as high as a year ago, and that stockpiles remain similar to last year's.
Feinstein sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Sunday calling for an investigation into the price hike.
"California's consumers are all too familiar with energy price spikes, which cannot be explained by market fundamentals and which turn out years later to have been the result of malicious and manipulative trading activity," Feinstein said in the letter.