What can the Attorney General do about gasoline prices? There are many global factors that have an impact on gas prices, including huge world-wide increases in demand, and limited refinery capacity. In addition, local conditions like the number of competitors in an area can also have an impact on prices. The Attorney General's Office does not set or regulate gasoline prices in Vermont. Consumers can help themselves, and help the market price by purchasing gasoline at stations with the lowest prices. Consumers can obtain information about local gasoline prices on the following website: www.gasbuddy.com. Does Vermont have a law against price gouging? On July 1, 2006, Vermont’s law on price gouging and heating fuel contracts went into effect. The law is designed to give the State additional tools to protect consumers against price gouging that occurs during a market emergency. While the law will not solve the problem of high gasoline prices, it will give the Attorney General some additional tools to deal with a market crisis should one occur. With the passage of the price gouging provisions of the law, Vermont joins 27 other states that have some form of price gouging laws on the books. In order for Vermont's price gouging law to help consumers, two things must happen:
(1) The Governor must have declared that there is a "market emergency",and
(2) The price increases must not be caused by the emergency.
These two factors will not occur in most situations because of the limitations built into the law. For example, a market emergency is defined as any "abnormal disruption of any market for petroleum products or heating fuel products", including "extraordinary adverse circumstances" such as:
- actual or threatened shortage in the supply
- actual or threatened increase in the price resulting from severe weather and supply manipulation
- act of war or terrorist attack
- national or local emergency.
If the Governor declares a "market emergency", the Attorney General can sue a fuel dealer who is selling fuel at a price that is "unconscionably high", which requires both that a "gross disparity" between the price before and after the market emergency is declared and that the disparity is not attributable to increased prices charged by suppliers because of the market emergency. If the Attorney General cannot take action, can consumers bring an action for price gouging? Although the price gouging section of the law contains no specific provision allowing consumers to bring an action, consumers have such a private right of action under the Vermont Consumer Fraud Act. Thus, consumers could bring their own action, but they would have to prove the same elements of a declared market emergency and a gross price disparity as defined in the law. What can consumers do about the high price of gas? Although Vermont’s prices have historically tended to track national averages, Attorney General Sorrell offers the following tips which consumers can follow to save money on gas.
- Shop around. Encourage competition by taking your business to gas stations with lower prices. See the websites listed in answer to the next question.
- Slow down. Keeping your speed down means you’re burning less of that expensive gas. Using cruise control and the overdrive gear on your car can also help.
- Tune up. To increase your miles per gallon, keep your engine tuned, replace clogged oil and air filters, and make sure your oxygen sensor works properly. Using the right grade of motor oil for your car and keeping your tires properly inflated will also help.
- Stick to regular gas unless your owner’s manual specifies you need a higher grade. Plan your route. Combine trips to save gas. For example, run errands while on your way to work or while taking your kids to school. Also, consider carpooling or use public and alternative forms of transportation.
- Pick the right vehicle. If you own more than one car, drive the one that gets the best gas mileage.
- Don’t idle. Turn off your engine if you plan to sit for a while.
- Don’t overload your trunk. Clear unnecessary things from your trunk and avoid hauling large items on your roof to improve your gas mileage. You can also go to: http://www.gasbuddy.com (gasoline price comparisons at local stations)
Where can I find information about gasoline prices?
Using online resources, consumers can compare prices among Vermont gas stations, find Vermont price trends, and compare prices among states. In addition, the Vermont Department of Public Service tracks the prices of all kinds of fuel, including gasoline, here.
For commuters: http://www.connectingcommuters.org
Petroleum Mergers and Competition in the Northeast United States, April 2010
Report on Petroleum Products Markets in the Northeast, September 2007