Washington, DC - Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti has concluded a probe into retail gas pricing in the District in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, finding only a single incident of retail pricing that appeared to be "unconscionable" in violation of the District's consumer protection law.
"While the District has some of the highest gas prices in the country, the problem does not appear to be the result of price-gouging at the retail level. We will now focus on why wholesale prices in this area are as high as they are," said General Spagnoletti.
The Office of the Attorney General is participating in a multi-state attorney general inquiry into whether there is business conduct in the oil/gas industry that violates consumer protection or antitrust laws and contributes to higher gas prices.
The Attorney General's conclusion regarding retail gas pricing in the District is consistent with the national trend charted by the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA reports that while the average retail price for a gallon of regular gas increased from $1.85 in 2004 to $2.27 in 2005, the portion of that price attributable to distribution and marketing declined from 12 percent to 9 percent.
The Office of the Attorney General considers a substantial increase in a gas retailer's price to be "unconscionable" if it is imposed during a period of consumer fear or confusion, and is not supported by prevailing retail prices, by an increase in the retailer's wholesale cost, or by an actual supply shortage. Violators can face penalties of $1,000 per violation and be required to pay consumer restitution.
Last month, the owner of the BP/Amoco station at 1800 18th Street, NW, agreed to pay restitution into the District's Consumer Protection Fund for sales made on September 4 and 5, 2005, when the station was charging $3.80 for regular and $4.00 for premium. The $897.61 payment, which equaled 39 cents per gallon of gas sold over the two-day period, was made without any admission of liability.
The Attorney General encourages consumers to protect themselves from price gouging by checking prices at several stations before filling up their tanks. Suspected price gouging may be reported to the Attorney General's consumer protection hotline at (202) 442-9828.