High Gas Prices & The Price Gouging Law

When gas prices rise and fall drastically sometimes, some people feel like they're being gouged at the pumps. But most of the time, gas retailers are free to set prices as high as they want.

Gary Harris, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum and Convenience Marketers Association, says, "You can only be gouged if you decide to purchase fuel there."

In other words, if you don't want to pay the high price, go to where's it's cheaper, because you don't really have any legal recourse, so says North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Cooper says, "So just in the day to day goings on of consumers, we don't have a price gouging law."

You heard right. There is not a price gouging law that covers gas prices on a regular basis. It only kicks in when there is a natural disaster, state of emergency, or abnormal market disruption. Lawmakers added that last part after Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf and drove up prices here. But if you're looking for lawmakers to revisit the law to cover everyday costs at the pump, It's not likely. Cooper says, "We have a capitalist marketplace society that's driven by supply and demand and prices. The question is, how much do you want the government to get involved in pricing and get involved in the marketplace."

While gas retailers are free to set prices as high as they want, technically they can't sell below cost, nor can they conspire to set prices. Cooper says, "It is against the law for gas stations or for oil companies to collude and to set prices in violation of the anti-trust law."

And Cooper says consumers need to let his office know if they have knowledge that's going on. Otherwise, Cooper's best advice, "We encourage consumers to shop around."

Harris agrees, saying, "If you're within five miles of another station I would suggest you go to another station."

Cooper says when the price gouging law has been in effect, they have gotten court orders against gas stations and thousands of dollars back for consumers.

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