Criminal Gasoline Prices?

OK AG cautions retailers on price fixing, gouging

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson last week asked state motorists to keep an eye on gasoline prices, but cautioned drivers against allegations of price gouging.

Oklahoma's price gouging law, the Emergency Price Stabilization Act, requires that a state of emergency be declared for the statute to take effect, Edmondson said. While gas prices seem criminal, absent an emergency declaration, the law is not being violated.

The attorney general wants drivers to report particularly high prices to his office, especially [image-nocss] with the Memorial Day holiday approaching.

Anyone who notices gas prices that seem out of line with the current rate should contact our office, Edmondson said. We will forward any information we receive to the National Association of Attorneys General task force currently monitoring prices nationwide. This task force is looking more at the issue of price fixing rather than price gouging.

Edmondson said the difference in price fixing and price gouging is subtle, but important. Price gouging is usually a single business acting on its own, where price fixing involves a strategic, planned effort, usually by an industry-related group, to inflate the price of a product.

He also advised retailers that the advertised price should accurately reflect the price at the pump. Intentionally displaying a lower price per gallon than is actually being charged at the pump could be false advertising. Retailers should not place a lower per gallon price on their signs to attract customers, then charge a higher price at the pump, Edmondson said. We have not received any reports of this recently, but we did see something similar during the gas panic that followed the September 11 attacks.

Edmondson said many factors, both international and domestic, help complicate the gasoline pricing issue and consumer frustration is understandable. The price of gas is directly tied to the price of oil, and demand drives the market, he said. We have seen prices go up and down, and that is natural. As long as companies are not acting in concert to artificially raise prices, we will just have to be patient.