The U.S. average price for retail gasoline burst above the $2 a gallon threshold for the first time ever, jumping 7.6 cents over the last week to a record high $2.017 a gallon Monday, the government said.
The latest pump price for regular unleaded gasoline is up 52 cents from a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's weekly survey of service stations.
Fuel prices are rising because of strong demand for gasoline and high crude oil prices, which account for almost half the cost of gasoline.
Crude oil traded at another record high Monday at the New York Mercantile Exchange. The June contract reached $41.85 a barrel before ending the day at $41.55 a barrel.
When adjusted for inflation in 2004 dollars, the highest price was $2.99 a gallon in March 1981, according to the EIA.
The Energy Department's analytical arm has forecast that gasoline will peak at $2.03 a gallon in June, but it now appears the price may go higher.
The Bush administration has been criticized for not taking action to find consumers some relief at the pump.
Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry's campaign said Monday the administration's national energy plan, which was announced 3 years ago this week, has not reduced U.S. reliance on foreign oil or lowered gasoline prices.
"When it comes to crafting consumer-friendly energy policies, George Bush has been an abject failure," said a Kerry spokesman. "While gas prices skyrocket and consumers get pinched, oil companies are raking in record profits."
The U.S. Energy Department had no immediate comment on the new record-high gasoline prices.
A group of Democratic senators Tuesday plans to introduce a non-binding resolution asking the White House to release up to 60 million barrels of crude from the nation's emergency oil stockpile to help lower gasoline prices. The administration has said it would not take such an action unless there was a true supply emergency.
And California lawmakers said Tuesday they would launch an investigation into whether oil companies have illegally tightened gasoline supplies to push retail prices higher.
California motorists generally pay more for gas than drivers anywhere else, an average $2.30 per gallon, according to AAA.
Critics question whether the gasoline industry has restricted supply as the power industry was found to have done during the state's electricity crisis of 2000 and 2001. Democratic state Senator Joe Dunn, who also probed that state's power crisis, will head a bipartisan committee to examine prices. Dunn noted only a handful of refineries operate in the state. "The industry has successfully eliminated competition."
The EIA's weekly report showed the retail price for cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline, sold in polluted metropolitan areas, rose 7.8 cents to $2.095 a gallon.
The West Coast had the most expensive regular unleaded gasoline, with the price up 4.3 cents to $2.243 a gallon. Los Angeles topped the agency's city survey of gasoline costs, as the price jumped 5.4 cents a gallon to $2.304.
The U.S. Gulf coast had the cheapest fuel by region, with the price up 6.7 cents at $1.885 per gallon. Houston had the most affordable gasoline at $1.847 a gallon, up 6.4 cents.
The weekly report also showed gasoline prices were up 9 cents to $2.251 in Seattle, up 13.5 cents to $2.149 in Chicago, up 10.2 cents to $2.038 in New York City up 7.7 cents to $2.034 in Miami, and up 12.9 cents to $2.019 in Cleveland.
Separately, the EIA survey showed the average pump price for diesel fuel increased 1.8 cents to $1.763 a gallon, up 32 cents from a year earlier. Truckers on the West Coast paid the most for diesel fuel at $2.25 a gallon, down half a penny from the prior week. The lower Atlantic states had the cheapest diesel at $1.652, up 1.9 cents.