- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is asking the state attorney general to respond to his nearly month-old request for an investigation into suspected gas-price gouging after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The average price of $3.065 for a gallon of regular unleaded in Maryland yesterday was the fifth-highest in the country, a survey by AAA showed. Motorists in the state, including those who buy at Shell and BP stations in Rockville, are paying as much as $3.35 a gallon.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said in a letter Monday to Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. that his Sept. 7 request for a probe of “unfair, deceptive and illegal trade practices in the sale of gasoline and other energy products” had gone unanswered.

“To date, I have yet to receive a response of any kind from you or your office,” Mr. Ehrlich wrote. “Accordingly, an interim report on the status of your investigations would be greatly appreciated.”

Kevin J. Enright, a spokesman for the attorney general, said yesterday that the absence of a price-gouging law in Maryland makes it difficult to pursue unfair pricing cases.

“The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has been investigating the high cost of gasoline since immediately after Hurricane Katrina, even before receiving the governor’s letter,” he said.

Mr. Curran, a Democrat, last year testified in support of price-gouging legislation, but the bill failed.

However, Mr. Enright said the office’s consumer protection division and antitrust division are investigating high fuel prices. “If we find that Maryland law has been violated, we will take action,” he said.

When Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29 and disrupted the flow of gasoline from Gulf Coast oil refineries, prices skyrocketed nationwide. In Maryland, the price of regular gasoline went from about $2.70 a gallon to more than $3.80 at some stations.

Prices have since decreased but remain higher than before the storms.

The District yesterday posted the country’s second-highest average fuel price, at $3.143 a gallon, and Virginia had the sixth-highest, at $3.026, the survey showed.

Such prices confound motorists, considering the average cost for a gallon of regular unleaded in Pennsylvania is $2.863.

“Marylanders continue to cope with higher than normal gas prices, and I anticipate a similar situation this winter for heating oil, kerosene, natural gas and propane,” Mr. Ehrlich wrote.

Also calling for a probe last month were Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat and likely candidate for governor next year, and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat representing Calvert and Prince George’s counties.

Mr. Curran has joined counterparts in the District, Virginia and more than 40 other states in a joint investigation, which is being led by Florida and Alabama.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist this week filed his second lawsuit accusing a fuel retailer of price gouging.

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