Sanders Targeting Vermont Retailers

Senator accusing R.L. Vallee, Champlain Oil, SB Collins of "overcharging customers"

Bernie Sanders

MONTPELIER, Vt.-- Rodolph "Skip" Vallee, president of St. Albans, Vt.-based retailer R.L. Vallee Inc., which owns 60 Maplefields gas stations and convenience stores, said he wants a meeting with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to explain his point of view after Sanders targeted the company for allegedly overcharging for gasoline. He said that his stations' prices are competitive, reported the Associated Press.

Sanders devoted part of a news conference on Monday to complaining that the three Vermont-based companies that combined own more than half the gas stations in Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin counties are overcharging customers.

The other two companies are Champlain Oil Co., South Burlington, and SB Collins, St. Albans.

"So far this year, Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin Counties are ranked as the 10th most lucrative market to sell gasoline in the United States," Sanders said in a press statement.

The statement continued, "For most of November, for example, filling stations in northwestern Vermont sold a gallon of gas for at least 30 cents more than the national average. ... Are people in northwestern Vermont being ripped off? Or is there a reasonable explanation: increased fuel hauling costs, different types of fuel or a different tax structure? I held a Senate field hearing in Burlington in August on exactly this issue. We learned there is no rational, economic reason to explain this price discrepancy. None.

"What became clear is that in northwestern Vermont--where three distributors control more than half (at least 54%) of the filling stations--prices do not fall as quickly as other parts of the state or country. ...

"I called each of these companies to speak about this issue and to make a simple and a direct request: make your filling stations in northwestern Vermont more competitive. None of these three were interested in discussing the matter seriously.

As you know, we have examined this issue closely and have found that these companies can be quite competitive when they want to be. After our investigation into the unusually high gas prices this summer, low-and-behold, the gasoline market here become more competitive and prices fell back in line with the national average. In fact, a few days before my hearing, Burlington prices fell about five cents below the national average. It's clear that when a spotlight is shined on this issue, filling stations become more competitive--at least temporarily.

"Starting again in September, the gas distributors were back to their old habits. ...

"I am in the process of speaking with members of the state legislature to explore holding hearings and drafting state legislation to counter the unusually high gas prices in northwestern Vermont. There may also be potential for legislation at the federal level. ...

Clearly, a vigorous level of competition is missing from the gas market in northwestern Vermont."

Click here to read the full statement. And click here to view Sanders' consumer gasoline price website.