AUSTIN, Texas -- The state's fuel retailer association and an owner of one of the more than 120 gas stations accused by the Texas attorney general of price gouging after Hurricane Harvey are pushing back against some of the claims.
In October, the Consumer Protection Division of the state’s office of the attorney general sent violation notices to 127 Texas fuel retailers, accusing them of charging $3.99 per gallon or higher for gasoline or diesel during the states of emergency declared after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast of Texas in late August.
Since then, some of the accused—more than three-quarters of which are in North Texas—have denied price gouging, local Dallas-Fort Worth news station CBS DFW reported.
Paul Hardin, president of the Texas Food & Fuel Association, Austin, Texas, told the news station that he believed most fuel retailers took warnings by the attorney general not to price gouge during the states of emergency seriously, even to the point of losing money.
“They were selling at below cost for fear of being accused of price gouging,” he said. “The price was going up and up and up, and they just didn’t want to put the price of what the market was actually bearing because they would be fried by consumers.”
Joseph Bickham, president of Fuel City, said the chain’s location in Mesquite, Texas, had capped its fuel prices at $2.89 per gallon and actually lost money. Regardless, it was one of those sites accused of price gouging.
“At times our cost was actually closer to three dollars or a little over three dollars,” Bickham told CBS DFW. “And we never raised prices that high.”
Hardin said that many of the complaints upon which the accusations were based were made anonymously or were from posts on social media. He also believes some consumers were confused by price signs that posted “9.99”—which was the fuel retailer’s way of communicating that it was out of fuel. The attorney general’s office is investigating this possibility.
Hardin expects the attorney general's office to ultimately drop its price-gouging accusations against most of the fuel retailers, especially since the operators documented their fuel prices.
“You’ll probably see that number drop drastically, probably below 30 would be my estimate,” Hardin said.