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Attorney General sends warning to gas retailers

6:56 AM, Jun 12, 2013   |    comments
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  • Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
  • Some states charge significantly lower prices for gas than others, regardless of wholesale price trends.(Photo: J Pat Carter, AP)
    

LANSING, Mich. (WZZM) -- It seems we're constantly looking for answers to the recent spike in gas prices.

Now state House Democrats are asking Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate the recent hike, which brought Michigan's prices to the highest in the continental U-S.

House Reps. Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills), Collene Lamonte (D-Montague) and Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) say the reasons we're seeing $4.20 per gallon for gas is namely, refinery problems in Indiana and Illinois. But, that doesn't tell the whole story.

Representatives from the attorney general's office says they're already playing watchdog everyday. We found out just what the attorney general does to protect consumers from gas gouging.

The face that gas prices are now well above $4 a gallon angers just about every motorist.

"Almost every time it jumps up, yes," said Brian Davis of Grand Rapids.

Michigan's average of $4.22 or so a gallon for gas is far more than the national average of $3.64. What is coming to drivers' minds?

"Gas gouging," said Dan Schaffner of Alpine.

"There's definitely some suspicion to it but we're forced to pay it," said Davis.

"We ask everyone calling for an investigation and calling for real answers," said Rep. Dillon.

Reps. Greimel, Lamonte, and Dillon called a press conference Tuesday, asking Attorney General Schuette to look into what they call price manipulation. They say refinery problems in Indiana and Illinois aren't the only reason for the price hike.

"It doesn't tell us whether producers, wholesalers and gas station owners are taking advantage of the situation to unfairly hike gas prices," said Rep. Dillon.

But Attorney General Schutte's spokesman John Selleck says the Federal Trade Commission is in charge of refineries, not the state. The three lawmakers say they did not contact the FTC. Selleck says his office monitors wholesale prices and gas gouging daily.

"We take data in every day and we can tell the difference of how much it costs wholesale gas to come into Michigan, how much gas stations are charging locally," says the spokesman.

Selleck says they aren't seeing any evidence of gas gouging right now.

"Gouging is not defined by any dollar amount, but it's defined by a legal term called 'grossly in excess'," he says. "The law does leave room for that fluctuation, otherwise we'd be in court everyday."

He says the last time they took gas stations to court was after Hurricane Katrina.

"They started charging $5.50, $6.00 a gallon," he said of about a dozen stations.

But Selleck says in the coming weeks, his office will be paying especially close attention for gas gouging.

If you're sure you witness it, tell his office.

Davis is his own watchdog.

"I have an app on my phone to check when gas prices go up, and usually when they do, it's pretty universal," he said.

AAA Michigan expects gas prices to subside in the next few weeks.

Attorney General Schuette is sending out a warning to gas retailers not to take advantage of consumers by price fixing or gouging.

The Michigan Consumer Protection Act and anti-trust laws prohibit retailers from "grossly" overcharging consumers or from entering arbitrary gas price fixing agreements.

Selleck says if you see gas prices stay high at a gas station, take a picture, get a receipt, and call their office or file an online complaint at www.michigan.gov/ag. Call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-765-8388.

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