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Gasoline Prices Likely to Rise Again Because of Latest Hurricane

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – For the second time in less than a month, a hurricane is threatening the nation's gasoline supply. The State Consumer Protection Board says motorists should brace themselves for another increase in gasoline prices. But the CPB is asking the public to be on the alert for cases of price gouging.

Following Hurricane Katrina earlier this month, gasoline prices skyrocketed to well over $3 a gallon. CPB spokesman John Sorensen said his office received a barrage of calls from people reporting cases of price gouging.

"A little over 3,000," Sorensen said. "And of those, two thousand were forwarded to the state Attorney General's Office for further investigation to see if they did violate the state's price gouging law."

So, what does that law say?

"While prices that are attributable to the disaster can be passed on to the consumer, anything above that is a violation of the law and subject to a fine," Sorensen said.

But Sorensen admits nothing is set in stone. So, price increases of 20, 30 or 50-cents were not necessarily illegal. He says the attorney general's investigation should provide the answers.

"It's not always the retailer who can be subject to a fine. It can be the wholesaler, producer or distributor," Sorensen explained. "So, what happens is that it's investigated from the retailer and is worked backwards to see what the prices were that led to the questionable price."

The Texas and Western Louisiana gulf coast is home to a quarter of the nation's gasoline refining capacity. If that supply is disrupted, area motorists could see a repeat of what happened Labor Day weekend when prices soared above three dollars a gallon while some gas stations ran out of gas.

Sorensen says the CPB continues to seek the assistance of the public in reporting what they believe are excessive prices for gasoline.