OAKLAND, Calif. – I stopped to gas up my economy rental car at the Shell station in Gilroy (“Garlic capital of the nation”) late one night as I crisscrossed the state covering the fight against the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.

I recoiled in shock as the pump racked up $29.22 for just over 12 gallons at $2.12 cents per gallon. The guy next to me was gassing up his pickup and laughed aloud when I exclaimed, “It’s robbery!”

“Your lucky,” he said. “I’ll have to pay forty bucks to fill this rig up!”

The anger and outrage across this state is palpable. Californians burn 1.25 billion gallons of gasoline every month and economists estimate that the oil corporations added $300 million in additional revenues last month alone with gas prices ranging as high as $2.50 a gallon. It is costing the average two-car family in California an extra $64 each month. Attorney General Bill Lockyer released a report blasting Chevron-Texaco and the other refiners for jacking up their wholesale prices 152 percent, from 27.6 cents a gallon to 69.6 cents a gallon, between January and March. He said the figures “raise legitimate questions” that the public is being “gouged.”

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante tapped into the angry mood when he denounced “oil company price gouging” and called for regulating the price of gasoline. The oil companies let it be known they will stop delivery, creating 1973-style lines at the gas pumps, should anyone interfere with their highway robbery.

It is not limited to California. The American Automobile Association in a report just before the Labor Day weekend charged that gasoline prices skyrocketed 13 percent in one month to $1.74 per gallon, 50 percent higher than a year earlier.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham urging an investigation. “Why has the price of gasoline increased by 20 percent in just two weeks?” Markey demanded. “Please fully describe all accounts of price gouging … as well as what steps have been taken to halt these activities and punish those responsible for them.”

Markey isn’t so naïve as to expect answers from Abraham, who takes his orders from oil-man George W. Bush. The oil corporations are spinning out one excuse after another: Iraqi oil has not arrived yet. Venezuela’s oil deliveries are disrupted. A pipeline ruptured near Tucson. A tank farm caught fire in New Jersey.

But Californians heard these excuses before from people like Enron’s Ken Lay, only to find out later that the energy moguls were “gaming” the energy market to the tune of $45 billion in electricity overcharges.

In the first quarter of 2003, Exxon-Mobil reported profits of $7.04 billion, more than triple the $2.09 billion they reported in the same period last year. For the second quarter, Exxon-Mobil reported $4.7 billion in profits. Their revenues soared to $63.8 billion compared to $43.5 billion for the same period last year.

Chevron-Texaco’s profits nearly tripled to $1.9 billion from $725 million in the first quarter of 2002. Second quarter earnings, $1.6 billion, were quadruple the $400-plus million a year earlier. Royal Dutch Shell raked in $3.9 billion in the first quarter of this year, up 96 percent from a year earlier. No wonder the oil men were so determined to put one of their own in the White House who will keep the loot rolling in.

These record profits come while the economy is in the pits. And oil company profiteering is a huge factor retarding economic recovery since every wheel of our industrial economy costs so much more to turn. Direct Action to Stop the War staged another of a series of demonstrations at Chevron-Texaco’s refinery in Richmond, Calif., Sept. 9, protesting the importation of “stolen Iraqi oil” to the huge facility and the tons of toxic pollutants the corporation dumps on Bay area residents. Motorists gouged by Chevron-Texaco have a good reason to join in these protests.

The situation calls for nationalization. Let the people take over these refineries. End the profit greed. End the pollution. But also end our near total reliance on gas guzzling, smog-belching private automobiles.

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com