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State officials won't identify stations suspected of price gouging

POSTED: October 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The state has subpoenaed sales records from nearly 150 Georgia gas stations that are suspected of price gouging customers in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

But state officials won’t identify the stations, and calls from The Times seeking comment were not returned by the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs.

The Associated Press reports that more than 1,500 consumers have filed complaints over the price they had to pay, including reports of as much as $9.99 a gallon for regular unleaded.

Bill Cloud, a spokesman for the consumer affairs office said there are still a few dozen calls a day about gas prices.

One station in Cobb County was charging $8.82 a gallon, and a Houston County gas station was asking customers to pay $7 per gallon, Cloud said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue activated the state’s anti-gouging statutes on Sept. 12. Under state law, businesses have to prove that they were making the same profit with their elevated prices as they were prior to Perdue’s order.

"Simply put, if it costs you $1 a gallon when you bought it and you were selling it for $2, then if it now costs you $2, you can sell it for $3," Cloud said.

At the peak, Hall County stations were charging as much as $4.29 for regular unleaded. The price now has dropped to about $3.50 per gallon. Georgia’s gas average hit an all-time high Sept. 15 at $4.16 per gallon.

The activation runs out this weekend, and the governor’s office has given no indication of whether Perdue plans to extend the period even though the state’s average gas price is still 30 cents higher than the national average.

Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said the governor will make a decision today.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the state got 6,000 complaints of price gouging.

The state investigated about 200 gas stations and ended up fining 80 stations for price gouging, Cloud said.

Hurricane Ike left a number of refineries in the Houston area without electric power for more than a week. Houston is where the "boutique" blend of low-sulphur fuel for the Atlanta area is produced.

The blend, which is mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, is one of 45 unique blends required in the U.S.

Stations in Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn., also suffered shortages.

The EPA lifted the requirement for the blend until Sunday, and stations have acquired fuel bound for other regions. While the situation has dramatically improved, some stations still are experiencing shortages, particularly on mid-grade and premium unleaded in the Gainesville area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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