Everyone who owns and drives a vehicle in our country today is affected by the skyrocketing price of gasoline and diesel fuel. There are various complex causes of this situation, many of which are beyond our government’s control. In the seven-county Metro Atlanta area alone there are nearly 67,000 gas pumps available, but overall (and with perhaps some exceptions), station owners tend not to be the ones benefiting from the lofty prices. Fuel sales represent 65 percent of the total sales of small convenience stores, and the retailers are paying hefty fees to the credit card companies.
Is It Price Gouging?
One of the pillars of our society is the free-market economy. The market controls prices on the basis of supply and demand, local competition and other factors. Please be aware that Georgia's price-control laws (O.C.G.A. Sections 10-1-393.4 and 10-1-438) go into effect only after a two-step process has occurred. First, a state of emergency must be declared by executive order of the Governor (for example, immediately following a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005) and the Governor must specifically state that the prices for a service or product, such as gasoline, are subject to price control. Without the imposition of a declared state of emergency and the specific designation of gasoline as an affected commodity, high prices alone do not meet the law’s definition of price gouging.
Gasoline Prices at the Pump
Georgia law does not allow deceptive advertising of retail motor fuel prices. The total cost per gallon, including tax, must appear on the sign in regulation-sized numbers, and it is a misdemeanor to place a higher price on the gas pump or to charge a higher price than is posted on signs, billboards or in other advertising (O.C.G.A. Section 10-1-164). Not only can any law enforcement officer in the state of Georgia enforce this law, but you may also report possible violations to the Fuel and Measures Division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, which regulates gasoline advertising. Their phone number is 404-656-3605, and the fax number is 404-656-9648.
The Agriculture Department also regulates and tests for accuracy the calibration of retail fuel pumps. If the pump receipt gives you reason to believe that you are being charged for more gas than you actually put into your tank, Fuel and Measures is the appropriate place to voice your complaint.
What Else Can Be Done About This Situation?
As this is a nationwide issue, it is most appropriately addressed at the federal level. The United States government (specifically the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice and the Department of Energy) has increased its efforts to monitor the petroleum market for potentially illegal or anticompetitive behavior such as price-fixing. The Federal Trade Commission maintains a website which describes their oversight of competition within the petroleum industry.
It makes sense for all of us to make every effort to conserve. See the DOE’s article, How to Beat High Gasoline Prices, for some useful driving and maintenance tips. You might also consider visiting www.fueleconomy.gov to find the lowest current gas prices in Georgia, as well as information on fuel-efficient vehicles and the reasons for prices being the way they are. It may go without saying that, as with any item offered by a vendor, sometimes your most effective choice as a consumer is simply to bypass the higher-priced stations and take your business elsewhere.