Gas stations not culprits on price rises, Ark. AG warns consumers

Legal News Line May 29, 2007, 11:00am

Dustin McDaniel

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Perhaps some state attorneys-general currently fretting over rising gas prices should give Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel a call. With consumers again screaming over rising retail gasoline rates and top lawmakers in other states launching probes and lawsuits, McDaniel has moved to protect retail gas-station operators from backlash. Speaking to voters in northwest Arkansas last week, McDaniel blamed rising prices on a lack of refineries and the Arkansas pipeline system, the Northwest Arkansas Morning News reported. He said his office has received "hundreds" of calls on the issue in the last month. But McDaniel has resisted the temptation to launch popular but hard-to-prove price-gouging and price-fixing lawsuits against gas pump operators. Instead, he stressed that individual retailers in the region were not to blame for the sharp increase. He pointed out that southern and eastern Arkansas was served by a different pipeline that offered lower prices to the Northwest. McDaniel explained his position on price gouging more thoroughly in a May 18 consumer alert on the gas price issue. He said the attorney general could only act against the practice in a "state of emergency" and that prices in areas recently hit by storms were not excessively high. Most of the recent oil price volatility is due to factors affecting supply and demand in a competitive market, the alert noted. Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna seems less sure of his economics. He announced last month a joint probe, with two other state offices, into why gas prices were rising disproportionately in different parts of that state, LegalNewsLine reported. And on the same day as McDaniel's speech, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced a second price-fixing suit against a chain of 60 Panhandle retail gas stations. The owner and company face penalties of over $1 million if convicted.

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