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With the price of crude oil now a lot closer to $90 a barrel than $70, gasoline prices have made new highs for the year, quickly approaching the $3 a gallon mark and, in some parts of the country such as California, that level has already been reached.

In a report at McClatchy, speculators are blamed for pushing energy prices higher:

If demand is down and supplies are plentiful — and they are — why would prices be going up?

Because Wall Street speculators are driving up oil and gasoline prices again — just in time to dampen holiday cheer.

“It’s all about investor optimism, and that’s been the story about 2010 … that’s the primary reason why we’re seeing oil prices at $90 (a barrel) and gasoline making an uncharacteristic climb in December towards $3 a gallon,” said Troy Green, a national spokesman for the AAA Motor Club, which monitors gasoline prices.

AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report shows the nationwide average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline stood at $2.968 on Wednesday. That’s up 11 cents a gallon from a month ago and 33 cents a gallon over one year ago. That means it costs about $1.65 more per fill-up than a month ago and $4.95 more than a year ago.

The report cites other reasons for higher prices such as the Federal Reserve’s latest money printing effort at a time when interest rates are freakishly low, a combination that drives investors into more tangible, riskier assets rather than safe, low yielding alternatives.

Also see this USA Today report filed earlier today that comes with a video that brings back memories of 2008 when the price at the pump briefly topped $4 a gallon.

Disclosure: No positions

Source: Gasoline Prices at Highs for Year