Alaska Lawmakers Propose Price Gouging Law

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Alaska Lawmakers Propose Price Gouging Law

JUNEAU, Alaska -- Some Alaska legislators have argued the state's high gas prices should be a crime, and have proposed that the state adopt a price-gouging law to make such prices illegal.

State Sen. Bill Wielechowski acknowledged such rules are difficult to enforce, but said Alaska should try. "It is hard to prove, but right now, we have nothing and we're getting gouged," he told the Juneau Empire.

Wielechowski said he's having legislation drafted to adopt price-gouging rules like those already in place in 30 states and under consideration in a dozen more.

At the same time, Democratic Rep. Les Gara, of Anchorage, and two newly elected representatives, Chris Tuck and Pete Petersen, also both Anchorage Democrats, are proposing similar legislation in the House. The representatives' proposed legislation would empower the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to set prices that are "just and reasonable," a power they already have for utilities, according to the newspaper report.

Tesoro Alaska Inc., one of the state's two gasoline refiners, said the market is what sets gas prices. "Gasoline is a commodity," said spokesman Kip Knudson. "We make it and when we're done making it, we sell it at a price the market will accept."

The Alaska Department of Law is conducting its own investigation into the state’s gas prices, and expects to report on its conclusions before the next legislative session begins in January. Preliminary information recently produced for the legislature cautions against trying to link gas prices elsewhere with prices in Alaska.

"The price of gasoline in the lower 48 is not a good indicator of what prices should be in Alaska," the Department of Law stated.

The investigation is focusing on explaining the slow price decline in Alaska, and trying to determine whether illegal conduct, such a price fixing, played a role.

Tesoro's Knudson said supply and demand are determining the price of gasoline.

"We maintain there are two manufacturers in the state, but there are lots of marketers," he told the Juneau Empire. "It's a very healthy and vibrant gasoline market."