- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Just in time for the Memorial Day weekend and as the cost of gasoline continues to climb nationwide, Minnesota is cracking down on service stations over gas prices.

Prices that are too low, that is.

A law the state adopted in 2001 in an effort to protect small service-station businesses prohibits gas stations from selling gas without taking a minimum profit. They must charge at least 8 cents per gallon, plus taxes, more than they paid for it.

Yesterday, the Commerce Department announced a $70,000 fine against Arkansas-based Murphy Oil for breaking the law at its 10 Minnesota stations, based at Wal-Mart stores and elsewhere. They also fined Kwik Trip Inc. $5,000 for violations at one station in Apple Valley, about 20 miles south of St. Paul.

The two are the first fines levied under the law, and were a result of a months-long review of the stations’ prices, the department said.

“It doesn’t feel good,” said Jeremy Haack, store leader at the Apple Valley Kwik Trip. “We try to give a little break to the consumers, and we’re the ones getting fined for it?”

Carol Hockert, director of the department’s weights and measures division, said she receives as many as 100 complaints a week, mostly from competitors convinced neighboring stations aren’t charging enough.

According to AAA, gasoline is about 60 cents higher this Memorial Day weekend than last.

Jerry Charmoli, an owner of three Mobil stations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs, said large-volume retailers will drive competitors out of business, and “then they’re going to charge $2 or $3 a gallon because they’re the only ones that are left.”

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