The average price for a gallon of diesel fuel in the United States rose 4.4 cents this week to $1.753, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said yesterday that the highest average price of $1.954 a gallon was found in New England. However, Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) said prices have soared above the $2 mark in Hawaii. Tom Kloza, director, editorial content for OPIS, said that by week's end, there might be a half dozen other states with average diesel pump prices above $2 a gallon. His firm yesterday recorded a national average of $1.78, 2.7 cents above the EIA figure. "There could be more significant increases this week, particularly in northern tier cities that have seen diesel fuel sales to customers cut off on natural gas in recent weeks," Kloza said. The increases point to more fuel surcharges by freight companies. UPS set the tone yesterday when it increased its fuel surcharge from 1.25 to 1.5%. Trucking groups such as American Trucking Assns. said they fear that diesel-price gouging could happen if prices continue to rise, especially because of fear of a U.S. war against Iraq. In a letter to each state's attorneys general, ATA president & CEO Bill Graves yesterday asked that they each "stand ready to utilize your state’s general consumer protection laws to combat such practices." Meanwhile, the National Assn. of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) said it's very possible that smaller fleets are being forced out of business because of high fuel prices. "It's the final straw that's breaking small carriers," NASTC president David Owen told The Commercial Appeal of Memphis. "For the first time in the history of transportation in the United States, a company will spend more on its diesel fuel than it will pay its driver for a long haul trip," Owen said.