Anti-gas gouging law invoked in South Carolina

By: Compiled Reports
By: Compiled Reports

September 12, 2008

South Carolinians can report suspected gas gouging by calling or emailing gasprices@scattorneygeneral.com.

Anyone can report suspected gas gouging at the US Department of Energy by clicking here.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster is invoking a state law that allows criminal penalties against gas stations that set their prices too high.

His announcement Friday came as gas prices rose during Hurricane Ike's approach to the Texas coast. Drivers across South Carolina started heading to gas stations Thursday night amid fears that prices would spike.

"President Bush has declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Texas due to Hurricane Ike," McMaster's statement said. "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 an information line at (803) 734-3970."

McMaster says consumers should report suspected price gouging to police. He did not set a price that would cause him to charge a gas station for price gouging, saying each case must be investigated separately.

A state law passed in 2006 lets McMaster activate the penalties when an emergency is declared by the president. President Bush declared a state of emergency for Texas and Louisiana on Thursday night.

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.
During such declared period of market abnormality, it is illegal to rent or sell or offer to rent or sell a commodity at an "unconscionable price" within the state or other recognized area within the state.

Those commodities are defined as goods, services, materials, merchandise, supplies, equipment, resources, or other articles of commerce, and includes, without limitation, food, water, ice, chemicals, petroleum products, and lumber essential for consumption or use as a direct result of a declared state of emergency.

"Unconscionable price" means an amount charged, which either represents a "gross disparity" or "grossly exceeds" the average price available for those items and services in the same area thirty (30) days immediately before a declaration of a state of emergency.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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  • by suzy Location: GREENWOOD S.C. Little Cricket on Jan 12, 2009 at 01:36 PM
    watch using credit or debit cards Fri JAN 9 2009 i was charged 12 cent more for gas when the sign read less also the person before me purchased gas and their reciept showed the correct amount. I was told my card was entered twice, what a joke three times I'VE BEEN TO SEE THE MANAGER STILL NO AVAIL WHAT DO YOU DO NEXT?
  • by Lewis Location: Greenville, SC on Oct 16, 2008 at 09:34 AM
    Gouging laws and the threat of windfall profits taxes are the reason it has become difficult to find gas lately.
  • by chris Location: aiken, sc on Sep 15, 2008 at 04:05 PM
    All is hear on TV and the radio is about the election. Frankly, I don't care who is the President. If these gas prices keep rising, then the whole economy suffers. McCain and Obama say they are going to do all these things, but what can they actually do about the most important issue, and that is the price of gasoline. When is Americans going to wake up and put a stop to this price gouging? If we don't do something, our economy will fall. HELLOOOO!
  • by Alisha Location: North Augusta on Sep 15, 2008 at 08:14 AM
    This part is to Vivian from Knoxville, TN. This is a GA/SC newstation, Not a TN newstation. Please get Your facts straight before you post blogs/comments on other websites for which you have no knowledge at all about. There are very, and I mean very few gas stations in this area that have gas at all and if they do the cheapest I have found is $5.29/gallon and there is a restriction on how many gallons you can pump. So, with that being said. Please, make sure you know the 'crises' in your area before making comments regarding any 'crises' in other areas. We are all being gouged and that is all there is to it. ALL gas stations that hiked their prices within a matter of hours on Thursday and Friday should ALL be penalized for price gouging. They purchased their gas at one price and started hiking the prices the moment they realized they were all going to run out. That will not happen though,"Our wonderful government in action for you"....lol
  • by Vivian Location: Knoxville, Tn on Sep 15, 2008 at 07:21 AM
    You are mistaken about the price of gas on Sunday in Knoxville being $4.25. Everywhere we have driven this weekend, it has been $4.99 except for a couple of sites being $4.499. Mostly it is the Pilot stations who are $4.999. Please advise us where we could get gas for $4.25! Our children in vMs., Ohio and N. Car. all reported to us this weekend that their prices were a lot less. Does Tn. not have and anti-gouging law to protect us?
  • by raquel Location: north augusta on Sep 15, 2008 at 04:43 AM
    the only people that will be hurt are those making min wage. we can't afford to work for our families if we can't get gas to travel. everyone complains but we still have to have gas.does the gov not see what these prices are doing and why only a part of the nation? how did we get so lucky?
  • by Alisha Location: North Augusta on Sep 13, 2008 at 08:34 PM
    It is a complete outrage that gas prices are as much as minimum wage, and that is if you can find it. Shame on the petroleum companies AND our government for making it utterly impossible for this to happen. How is it that a parent cannot even make it to work because either they cannot obtain gas nor afford it because after all the taxes come out of their check they should have stayed home to begin with. This is insane. The government should step up to the plate and help those less fortunate than they are for once. I am absolutely beside myself and God bless all of you hard-working folks out there!
  • by perry Location: augusta on Sep 13, 2008 at 11:14 AM
    it's ridiculous, and the gas stations know it. No need for the increase just a way for them to make more money, cause they are not paying more for gas.I say every gas station who's price was more than what it was in Texas should be fined. It's not like they are going to lower their prices to 2.99 a gallon to make up for how much they have robbed their own customers. Fine them all and lock them up for 30 days, then the honest gas station owners can reap the benefis while his competitors are in jail and paying fines.
  • by Judy Location: North Augusta on Sep 13, 2008 at 09:38 AM
    So we can report stations... Hmmm... Is there an option for "all of them?"
  • by Fred Location: Aiken on Sep 13, 2008 at 08:53 AM
    Let it be known now that no public official is going to help the hard working ,paying man at the pumps . It is gouging at its onset , and they say they have there hands tied , we can't do any thing . But they sure can help them selves . Like government credit cards, for what they acconplish nothing , for the average man . A politician is there to benifit himself and you can take that to the bank . If you believe other wise you are as sick as they are .
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