By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There is no relief for U.S. consumers at the gasoline pump, as the national price for motor fuel hit a record high for the fourth straight week, increasing 2.7 cents over the last week to $1.813 a gallon on Monday, the government said.
The latest pump price is 29 cents higher than this time last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's weekly survey of service stations.
Strong consumer demand for gasoline and tight fuel supplies are pushing up pump prices.
When adjusted for inflation in 2004 dollars, the highest price for gasoline was $2.99 a gallon in March 1981, EIA said. European drivers face much higher gasoline costs than in the United States, with prices in some countries around $5 a gallon.
The record price comes as a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward claims that Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, promised President Bush the Saudis would cut oil prices before November.
Woodward, author of a new book on Bush's preparations for the Iraq war "Plan of Attack," said Prince Bandar pledged the Saudis would try to fine-tune oil prices to prime the U.S. economy for November's presidential election, a move they understood would favor Bush.
Democratic presidential challenger Sen. John Kerry said it would be "outrageous and unacceptable" if the Bush administration and the Saudis reached a "secret" deal to tie the price of gasoline and fuel supplies to the U.S. presidential election.
Saudi Arabia said Monday it will not use oil prices to try to sway the U.S. election
"We do not use oil for political purposes; it is too important a commodity, and its impact on the global economy (of which we are a part) is tremendous," said Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign affairs adviser to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
"Saudi Arabia also does not interfere in elections," he said in a statement.
The retail price for cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline, sold in polluted city areas, increased 1.6 cents in the latest week to $1.899 a gallon, according to the EIA survey.
The West Coast had the most expensive regular unleaded gasoline, with the price up 0.9 cent at $2.088 a gallon.
Los Angeles topped the agency's city survey of gasoline costs, but the price fell 1.5 cents a gallon at $2.195.
The U.S. Gulf Coast has the cheapest fuel by region, with the price down 3.7 cents at $1.70 per gallon. Houston had the most affordable gasoline at $1.665 a gallon, up 3.3 cents.
The weekly report also showed gasoline prices were up 7.8 cents at $1.959 in Seattle, up 3.3 cents at $1.888 in Chicago, up 2.4 cents at $1.860 in Miami, up 1.6 cents at $1.781 in New York City and up 5.9 cents at $1.778 in Cleveland.
Separately, EIA said the average pump price for diesel fuel increased 4.5 cents to $1.724 a gallon, up 20 cents from a year earlier.
Truckers on the West Coast paid the most for diesel fuel at $2.112 a gallon, up 8.6 cents from the prior week. The lower Atlantic states had the cheapest diesel at $1.624, up 2.8 cents.