Friday, February 25, 2011

Gas prices up over $3/gallon–watch for price gougers

LITTLE ROCK – Turmoil in the Middle East is a major factor that has lead to higher prices at the gas pump for Arkansas consumers. The AAA said Friday that the national average cost per gallon for unleaded fuel rose by 5.9 cents overnight. That marks the third consecutive day of price-per-gallon increases, largely because of unrest in Libya.

With gas prices now over $3 per gallon in Arkansas, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this special consumer alert to address some of the issues raised by concerned Arkansans.

McDaniel said his office has received dozens of calls this week alone from consumers troubled by the rise in fuel prices. And, with Spring’s arrival and more drivers hitting the road, there’s little chance that gas costs will subside in the near future.

“We are accustomed to paying less for gasoline in the winter months, because there’s usually less demand during this time of year,” McDaniel said. “However, the civil unrest in Egypt and now in Libya has caused a lot of uncertainty in the oil markets. We know that the cost of fuel directly impacts every Arkansas consumer.”

McDaniel pledged to monitor the situation, but said consumers have few options regarding the latest spike in gas prices.

Some consumers have asked about the Arkansas Price Gouging Law, Act 376 of 1997. The law prohibits sellers of certain consumer goods and services from taking advantage of a disaster resulting in a declaration of emergency by price gouging. After a state of emergency has been declared, the seller can raise prices by no more than 10 percent, unless the seller can show that his own costs have increased. The law would not be applicable in this situation because there is no current statewide declaration of emergency, and, even if an emergency is declared, retailers are allowed to raise prices when their own costs increase.  

“Like any free-market commodity, the retail price of gasoline is based on factors like supply, demand and competition,” McDaniel said. “It’s our understanding that these recent increases are brought upon by the increased prices charged to refiners, which gets passed along to wholesalers and then retailers.” 

One area of concern to McDaniel would be if any retailers or fuel distributors reach agreements with competitors regarding prices. Such agreements, or “price fixing,” would violate state and federal antitrust laws.

McDaniel encouraged consumers with direct knowledge of price fixing to call his office’s Consumer Protection Division.

“We want to make sure that Arkansans are getting a fair deal at the gas pump,” McDaniel said. “If there is evidence to suggest that gas stations are engaged in illegal price fixing, we will not hesitate to investigate.”

To register a complaint or for more information on other consumer issues, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at (501) 682-2341 or, toll-free, at (800) 482-8982. The Attorney General’s Office website is

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