More Subpoenas in Florida

Bronson's gas price gouging probe widens; shortages rumored

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson said late last week that he had issued 11 more subpoenas for financial records of gas stations, bringing to 22 to the number of stations in Florida that are being asked to provide records in connection with 32 Hurricane Dennis price gouging complaints.

Each of the stations issued subpoenas are ones which are alleged by consumers to have raised prices by 24 cents or more following Governor Jeb Bush's declaration of an emergency for the then approaching Hurricane [image-nocss] Dennis on July 7.

Bronson said the subpoenas are being sent to stations to determine whether they engaged in price gouging or whether alleged price increases imposed by the stations were merely cases of the stations passing on increased costs incurred by them.

We intend to get to the bottom of these complaints as quickly as possible, Bronson said. If station owners are just passing along their increased business costs, they'll have no problem with us. But if we find cases where stations have profiteered from the storm, we will pursue them as aggressively as we can.

I never ceased to be amazed at the ignorance of both the mainstream media as well as our outstanding crop of bureaucrats. There is a bureaucratic frenzy in subpoena land. All unfounded, Jim Smith, president and CEO of the Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association (FPMA) told CSP Daily News. You need to understand that retailers have already been convicted by the media even though these subpoenas are strictly of a fact finding nature.

Under Florida law, it is unlawful to charge exorbitant or excessive prices for essential items, including gasoline, ice, water, lumber, generators and shelter, following the declaration of an emergency, unless the increases in the amount charged are attributable to additional costs incurred by retailers. Individuals or businesses found to have engaged in price gouging face fines of up to $1,000 per violation, or up to $25,000 a day.

Since 2001, Bronson's agency has collected more than $100,000 from some 80 service stations and terminals in response to price gouging complaints.

Meanwhile, reports of fuel shortages began to crop up late last week as Floridians sought gasoline for their vehicles, as well as for generators.

Gasoline is an issue, and it's going to be one of the big issues, Governor Jeb Bush said when he visited Pensacola earlier this week, according to a Miami Herald report. One of the challenges we'll have is the lack of gasoline.

State officials were so desperate to get fuel into the area that they asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to relax rules on the sulfur content of diesel sold in Florida until Monday, the report said.

State emergency managers also worked with private fuel distributors to direct 100 trucks with 1.8 million gallons of gasoline into the Panhandle 24 hours after the storm, and another 2.9 million gallons were set to arrive on tankers in the ports of Pensacola and Panama City, Deena Wells, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, told the paper.

As reported in CSP Daily News, before and after the storm, state officials had logged more than 1,500 complaints about price gouging at gas stations. The state attorney general's office subpoenaed the financial records of two petroleum companies to determine why prices the companies charged gas stations increased as much as 30 cents per gallon as Hurricane Dennis approached.