News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
TUESDAY, MAY 16, 2006


Attorney general quick to jump on gas dealers

State Attorney General Troy King charged retail gas stations with price gouging as a political stunt, or he didn't have the facts back in January when he made a big splash during the gasoline shortage that Hurricane Katrina helped create.

At the time, he condemned "those among us who see disasters as merely an opportunity to unconscionably profiteer off the misery and misfortune of our neighbors. When they do so, they break the law."

Bud's No. 13 on Danville Road was one of four stations Mr. King charged that day under Alabama's Unconscionable Pricing Act.

At the time, Stratton Orr, president of Petroleum Sales Inc., said his company was simply trying to manage scarce supplies. He said he raised prices to stay close to prices at nearby stations to avoid a run on any one station. He also limited purchases to eight gallons to help more people get gasoline. He said he also gave $1,500 worth of gasoline vouchers to the Salvation Army for hurricane evacuees during that time.

The Attorney General's office last week quietly settled with Bud's and two other stations. Mr. Orr emphasized that the settlement involved no admission of wrongdoing, and a $5,300 contribution to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.

Mr. King acknowledged that the companies' records showed only modest profits on the days in question. He said many price hikes during the state of emergency Gov. Bob Riley declared were not as extreme as they may have appeared to customers and did not violate price-gouging laws.

It was good politics at the time for the attorney general to appear the superhero of Alabama gasoline consumers. But he didn't do his homework and as a result wrongly accused some station owners.

Mr. Orr said that if the attorney general's office had insisted that Petroleum Sales did wrong he would not have settled the case.

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