Letter: Gridiron and gasoline

Gridiron and gasoline

It is hard to avoid the news about gasoline prices. Prices are below $2 a gallon at more than half the stations in the nation. The average American family is enjoying a savings of between $500 and $750 per year.

Those living in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley are not participating. Prices in Aspen remain near $4 a gallon. Prices downvalley are near $3 a gallon. If historic relationships held, the price of gasoline in Aspen would be around $2.40 per gallon today. But historic relationships do not hold; there is a reason. Aspen residents must help pay Johnny Manziel’s $8 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

How does Manziel figure in the story? It’s quite simple. The Haslam family, which owns the Browns, also owns Pilot Flying J. In 2012, Pilot Flying J bought Western Petroleum LLC, the company that owns many of the Shell stations and seems to supply most, if not all, of the Shell, Conoco and Phillips 66 stations in the valley. If I have done the arithmetic correctly, it seems that Pilot Flying J is making more than $1 of profit on every gallon it brings from Denver. It charges high prices to the retailers, and the retailers pass on the cost to you. The companies supplying the other retailers in the valley, Valero and 7-Eleven, follow the leader. Why not?

Of course, Pilot Flying J cannot charge high prices everywhere. It is offering gasoline for less than $1.80 in Grand Junction because it must, not because it wants to.

Pilot Flying J also does not have the best reputation. In June 2013, The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about how the company’s offices were raided by FBI agents wearing bulletproof vests. Employees were later indicted on fraud charges. Five pleaded guilty. Pilot Flying J agreed to pay a $92 million fine and $85 million in rebates. Meanwhile, the Haslams must pay Manziel’s $8 million salary. Aspen and valley residents are being forced to ante up.

Aspen’s politicians do not care that you are being legally ripped off, and the mayor may even approve of the action because it contributes to lower emissions. Drivers need to act on their own if they want lower prices. I suggest that everyone patronize stations other than those supplied by Pilot Flying J. Go to the Valero or 7-Eleven stations. When you are there, tell the managers you do not want to pay Manziel’s salary. Perhaps these operators will lower their prices if they see increased volumes and understand the reason for the increased business. Meanwhile, the stations supplied by Pilot Flying J will suffer volume losses, and the Haslams’ income will be cut.

Stations not supplied by Pilot Flying J or Western Petroleum LLC should post large signs that say, “Your money does not go to pay Johnny Manziel’s salary.”

Drivers in the rest of the country are getting a tax cut thanks to Saudi Arabia. Those living here must fight for it. This cut could be $500 to $1,000. Do you care?

Philip Verleger