SANTA MONICA ( — The gap between what Californians pay for gasoline and what Americans pay continues to widen to “historic proportions,” a consumer advocate said on Thursday.

Consumer Watchdog says, since February, California drivers paid on average $220 more for gas compared to their counterparts in other parts of the nation.

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“Oil refineries have kept us running on empty, then when a refinery goes down, there’s such scarcity in the gas supply and the price goes through the roof,” said Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court at a news conference in Santa Monica.

Consumer Watchdog is preparing a ballot initiative, which would require oil refiners to disclose their profits, provide advanced notice for planned refinery outages, require inventory levels to meet demand, and increase penalties for illegally shorting the market.

The Western States Petroleum Association, which represents refiners in California, has not returned CBS2’s calls for comment.

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In responding to similar allegations of supply manipulation, the association’s Vice President Tupper Hull wrote, “We understand the frustration caused by fuel price volatility that results from temporary supply disruptions.”

He went on to say, “… that volatility is likely to be a feature of California fuel markets for many years to come as the state continues to adopt increasing stringent regulations that further isolate California from other fuel markets.”

Whether it’s the result of isolation or manipulation, Californians are now paying, according to Consumer Watchdog, about 88 cents more for every gallon of gas.

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