- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005


New Jersey has filed lawsuits against oil companies and gasoline stations, saying they violated state fuel-pricing laws after refineries and pipelines shut down because of Hurricane Katrina.

Amerada Hess Corp., Motiva Shell and Sunoco Inc. were named as defendants, as were independent gas station owners selling Citgo, Hess, Shell and Sunoco brand gasoline. The state filed four lawsuits in state Superior Court in Mercer County, acting Gov. Richard J. Codey said Monday.

Mr. Codey sent state inspectors to about 400 gas stations after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast four weeks ago because of consumer complaints about fuel prices that rose above $3 a gallon. Inspectors found more than 100 violations at gasoline retailers.

“We will not allow businesses to exploit natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina by inflating prices at the pump in violation of New Jersey’s laws,” Attorney General Peter Harvey said.

Spokesmen for Hess, Shell and Sunoco didn’t return phone calls yesterday.

No other state has a law against changing the price of fuel more than once in a 24-hour period, said Kate Burke, an energy policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Ironically, the New Jersey law was enacted in 1938 to prevent gasoline station owners from dropping the price more than once per day, Ms. Burke said.

The U.S. average pump price jumped to a record $3.069 a gallon about a week after Katrina struck, according to Energy Department data. The price was $2.803 as of Monday.

Gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange, which are based on wholesale prices, surged to a record $3.057 a gallon earlier this month.

The companies are accused of violating New Jersey laws by changing gasoline prices at the pump more than once every 24 hours, failing to display signs for fuel prices, failing to maintain or provide access to books and records and violating advertising regulations, the state said.

Violations of the Motor Fuels Act carry a $50 to $200 penalty. • Staff writer Jen Haberkorn contributed to this report.

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