High Prices To Last Over Weekend, Experts Say
POSTED: 10:53 pm EDT September 11, 2008
UPDATED: 3:27 pm EDT September 12, 2008
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- ALERT: Just before noon Friday, South Carolina invoked law allowing criminal charges for gas stations that set 'unconscionable' prices.
As Hurricane Ike churned into Texas on Thursday, gas prices continued to rise in South Carolina and elsewhere across the nation -- while S.C. state officials moved to make price gouging at the pumps illegal.
Attorney General Henry McMaster is encouraging citizens to report inordinate and suspected violations immediately to local law enforcement. There is also a special e-mail address: GasPrices@SCAttorneyGeneral.com, and an information line at (803) 734-3970.
In Greenville County, Lt. Shea Smith with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said the department will "document information provided by citizens in response to price gouging of gasoline. The Sheriff’s Office will review the information at the conclusion of the declaration of emergency and determine if any criminal charges are warranted.
"The public should be reminded that several factors including hurricanes, lost production and an unusual run on gasoline has an effect on market prices as seen in past situations. Normal changes in market prices do not constitute criminal activity and are expected during emergency conditions."
Besides contacting the Attorney General's Office, Greenville County residents can also call 271-5210.
Gas in Sumter County, S.C., was as high as $5.23 a gallon. In the Upstate, WYFF News 4 viewers were reporting some prices as high as $4.60 per gallon, up as much as a dollar overnight.
In Greenville County, one station was selling gas for $3.91 a gallon and lines were reported at several stations that had not yet raised prices significantly.
Fuel experts said most gas stations will likely follow suit Friday and raise prices.
Industry insiders said most Upstate residents could be paying about between $3.79 and $3.99 for a gallon of gas on Friday.
Terry Southall said he experienced the price hike firsthand.
"I filled up this morning at about 9 a.m., and when I filled up at the gas station, it was actually $3.38 a gallon," Southall said. "But after this afternoon, when I took my personal vehicle down there, not my work truck, they were actually at $3.69. So they jumped up $.31 in less than a 12-hour timeframe."
Across the Upstate, drivers topped off their tanks. Some stations had unleaded, like one Easley Ingles, but others were out.
An Exxon down the road had only supreme and diesel gas.
Back-to-back hurricanes are being blamed for the volatile market. But AAA Carolinas chief David Parsons said that the worst thing to do is to top off tanks. He said that will make the situation worse before officials know how bad the damage from the storm will be.
Oil refineries were evacuated along the Gulf Coast for Hurricane Gustav. Now, two weeks later, it's Hurricane Ike. That's not much time in between the two for production, so gas shipments are at a dangerous low.
Brand-name operators who exclusively sell one kind of gas said they saw their own gas prices spike on Thursday on the wholesale market.
Kenneth Cosgrove's family owns several Citgo stations in the Upstate.
"For the next week or two, there will be a little less gasoline because of these hurricanes in the Gulf," Cosgrove said.
Cosgrove said he and every other brand-name operator have been told gas supplies are being limited and everyone has been allotted only so much. He said that's bad news for non-brand operators, who usually buy their excess fuel.
With less to go around, some gas stations are running low or are completely out.
"It should be temporary, whatever happens," Cosgrove said. "But Ike is a wildcard."
AAA officials say if everybody goes out and tops off their tanks the temporary shortages drivers are already experiencing could get worse.
AAA suggested drivers stick to their normal gas-buying behavior and don't make unnecessary trips.
Experts said drivers should expect the higher gas prices at least through the weekend. But they really won't know how long-lasting they'll be until workers go back to the evacuated refineries and check on what damage Hurricane Ike did, if any.
Attorney General's Statement On Invoking Gouging Law
POSTED: 2:12 pm EDT September 12, 2008
UPDATED: 2:19 pm EDT September 12, 2008
Attorney Henry General McMaster has invoked the state's price gouging prohibition statute and issued the following statement:
"President Bush has declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Texas due to Hurricane Ike. Pursuant to SC Code Section 39-5-145, the attorney general now gives notice of an "abnormal disruption of the market" for gasoline and other petroleum products in South Carolina.
Therefore, as of this notice, price gouging for gasoline and other commodities constitutes an unfair trade practice and a criminal misdemeanor. "Price gouging" requires the charging of an "unconscionable price" not attributed to additional costs or market fluctuations. An unfair trade practice violation carries a civil penalty of up to $5,000 per violation 39-5-110. In addition, the criminal penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of no more than 30 days 39-5-145 (K).
Citizens should report inordinate and suspected violations immediately to local law enforcement. This office has also established a special email address -- GasPrices@SCAttorneyGeneral.com, and an information line at (803) 734-3970.
In most cases, the criminal prohibition against price gouging takes immediate effect upon the Governor's declaration of a state of emergency, or a similar declaration by the President of the United States, and only within the area for which the state of emergency has been declared. The prohibition remains in effect until the declaration expires or is terminated.
South Carolina law also provides for the State Attorney General to identify an 'abnormal disruption of the market' in another part of the country that affects the market for a commodity in South Carolina. This abnormal condition in another state must follow a declaration of a State of Emergency by the President of the United States. The Attorney General can declare such a condition for fifteen (15) day periods, and may renew or cancel them."