OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna today explained what the state hopes to achieve with its gas prices investigation and said Washington residents can help ensure a fair marketplace by passing along their tips.
Actuality 1: Many people in Washington are understandably concerned about high prices at the pump. Generally speaking, the economic forces of supply and demand apply to crude oil and gas just as they do to other products and services. But like all consumers, government leaders want to better understand why gasoline prices are consistently higher in some areas of the state than others and why Washington state is the second highest in the country. (21 seconds)
McKenna recently announced that government officials are launching state government’s most comprehensive investigation of Washington’s petroleum market in 16 years. Teaming with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Department, the Attorney General’s office will research and analyze factors affecting pricing patterns around the state and share the results during a series of public forums this fall.
Actuality 2: The Attorney General’s Office stands ready to take enforcement action should our research uncover price-fixing or other violations of our state’s consumer protection or antitrust laws. Without sufficient evidence of an antitrust law violation or an unfair or deceptive act, however, we have neither justification to issue subpoenas nor authority to intercede in the market. (20 seconds)
Here are legal violations that the Attorney General’s Office looks for:
- Price-fixing and other forms of collusion. Price-fixing includes an explicit agreement among competitors to raise, fix, or otherwise maintain the price at which their goods or services are sold to the detriment of either the competitive marketplace or consumers. Consumers can help by alerting the Attorney General's Office if they know of any efforts by competing firms to fix or manipulate prices.
- Business mergers and monopolistic practices that would result in reduced competition and harm to consumers. The Attorney General’s Office closely monitors proposed business mergers to ensure competition remains healthy.
- Unfair or deceptive acts, as defined under the state Consumer Protection Act. For an unfair act to be illegal under this law, we must be able to prove: 1) That the practice offends public policy; 2) That it is immoral, unethical, oppressive or unscrupulous; and 3) It causes substantial injury to consumers or competition in the marketplace.
Actuality 3: In most cases where enforcement action has been taken against a petroleum provider, a consumer was critical in helping expose the illegal activity. For example, a customer or employee who hears managers of competing gas stations discuss prices can be the key that enables our office to successfully prosecute violators. (17 seconds)
Consumers who have evidence of price-fixing or other antitrust violations should file a complaint on the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.atg.wa.gov/Antitrust/default.aspx.
While illegal price-gouging may occur in a post-disaster situation where a supplier takes advantage of shortages, it does not necessarily occur in non-disaster situations involving regional price disparities. Consumers who suspect a business is making an unconscionable profit in light of all circumstances, should keep their receipts as potential evidence and file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-551-4636 or http://www.atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx.
McKenna said he looks forward to sharing results in August from the first phase of the gas prices investigation, then meeting with consumers this fall to further discuss findings.
Gas prices investigation fact sheet
The Attorney General’s Antitrust Division collects and analyzes petroleum pricing data every month and publishes a quarterly Gasoline Report that helps explain factors that affect gasoline prices in Washington.
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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Seattle Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432