- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

AAA Mid-Atlantic yesterday pressed the D.C. government to investigate whether D.C. gasoline stations are engaging in price gouging after the city topped the nation with the most expensive gas.

Pump prices in the District led the nation Wednesday with the average price for a gallon of regular hitting $3.38, up 3 cents from Tuesday, AAA reported. The price had dropped 7 cents to $3.31 yesterday.

“Consumers in the District are outraged by the developments at the pump since Hurricane Katrina,” the regional auto club said in a letter that was sent yesterday to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

“The mayor needs to say something about this,” AAA spokesman John Townsend II said.

Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the District is part of a multistate investigation of the rising price of gas nationwide.

So far, 43 state attorneys general and the District are part of the investigation, said Joy Patterson, spokeswoman for Alabama Attorney General Troy King.

States have the authority to handle price-gouging issues, and 23 states have laws regarding it. But the definition of price gouging varies, and no federal law addresses the matter.

D.C. law says it is illegal for gas-station owners to charge an “unconscionably high price” for gas. The District’s antitrust laws also ban oil companies or gas stations from coordinating a certain price.

The D.C. Attorney General’s Office has received “very few” complaints and is not keeping track of them, said spokeswoman Pamela Satterfield.

The office last week issued public notices warning consumers about the risk of price gouging at the pump.

Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has received 89 complaints about price gouging after Hurricane Katrina, said spokeswoman Marion Horsley.

The state agency has investigated nine of those complaints, including a gas station in Centreville that was reported as having prices as high as $5.89 for a gallon of regular gas last Friday.

Virginia passed a measure last year, after Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003, to protect consumers from price gouging, but the law has not been used, said Kevin Hall, spokesman for Gov. Mark Warner.

The state defines gouging as “unreasonably excessive under the circumstances.”

When investigators arrived at the station, it was closed, the agency said.

Maryland’s Office of Attorney General had received 130 complaints by yesterday afternoon, said spokesman Kevin Enright.

The agency has not started a formal investigation, Mr. Enright said, adding that Maryland has no law against price gouging.

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