Cooper took appropriate response to price gouging at the pump

Published 6:28 am Saturday, October 25, 2008

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in the Fayetteville Observer.)
It makes no sense that North Carolina would compete with Hawaii and Alaska for the highest gas prices in the nation. It’s not like the Tar Heel State is in some exotic locale, dependent upon fleets of ships for delivery.
Blame it on Hurricane Ike, said Attorney General Roy Cooper. When the hurricane was set to strike the Gulf Coast on Sept. 12, he said, producers shut down their operations. That’s true.
But why weren’t Alabama or Texas — where the hurricane did the most damage — experiencing a similar escalation in price? Why weren’t we seeing the same thing in South Carolina? Gas across the border could be obtained for from 30 cents to more than a dollar less per gallon.
Not surprisingly, Cooper’s office was deluged with complaints about price-gouging. Cooper himself fielded some of those phone calls. It turns out some were valid.
Circle B President Dilip K. Gala has announced that he will refund $1.50 a gallon to consumers who bought gas by credit card during the time period in question. He will also pay a $5,000 fine.
An investigation by Cooper’s office revealed that Circle B at McPherson Church and Morganton roads overcharged consumers by more than $1,000 between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sept. 12. That day gas at the station jumped from $3.99 to $5.49 a gallon in a matter of hours.
Consumers who used their credit cards to buy gas from Circle B will receive the refunds on their cards. Consumers who paid cash have 30 days to present the receipt to receive a refund.
Circle B was one of several stations around the state that reached a deal with the attorney general. Five stations in western North Carolina reached a similar deal, and Cooper has filed suit against a Troy station owner. He says the investigation is continuing. It should.
Protecting consumers is his job and Cooper is carrying it out (in an election year, he’d be foolish not to).
You don’t have to be a lawyer, though, to figure out that when gas prices in North Carolina rival those of Hawaii and Alaska, somebody is jerking the consumer around. We’ve got no beef with the free market and letting the law of supply and demand set prices. But like every other law, supply-and-demand needs watchdogs to make sure nobody’s manipulating the system and taking unfair advantage of consumers.
What Cooper did is an appropriate bit of enforcement in the economic legal system.