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Showdown Brewing in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. -- Michael O' Connor, president of the Virginia Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, in a letter to Sheetz President Stanton Sheetz, challenged the Sheetz CEO to a public debate to discuss the below-cost sale of gasoline in Virginia.

Virginia Senate Bill 458, which would prohibit the sale of below-cost fuel, was passed by the Virginia Senate 23-12 last week, and will be considered by the House of Delegates after February 13.

Sheetz has been a vocal opponent of the bill. Stan Sheetz was unavailable yesterday for comment.

In his letter O'Connor stated " Should Sheetz continue to oppose this legislation, the only reason to do so would be to sell below cost, which is in direct variance from the testimony presented by your spokesperson last Monday. Should Sheetz continue to oppose this amended bill, we believe that it is in the interest of all Virginia consumers to know why".

O'Connor has asked Sheetz for a response to this debate challenge by Tuesday January 29

The Virginia measure is aimed at penalizing retailers who sell gasoline below cost. The decision comes as Sheetz Inc. and Wawa Inc. expand their gasoline operations into the state, according to a report in the Hampton Roads, Va., Daily Press. It now must pass the House before it can become law.

The legislation has gone through several revisions. The original draft levied a civil fine of $5,000 for retailers who knowingly sold fuel below cost, granting exceptions for grand openings, inadvertent mistakes and other special situations. As it now stands, the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles could first issue a warning, telling the retailer to stop selling fuel below cost. Before a fine could be levied, the department would have to determine that the below-cost sales had disrupted the market or hurt competition.

Opponents of the bill said it would result in higher prices for consumers.

Steve Horton, a lobbyist representing Sheetz, told the Daily Press that the company was disappointed by the vote but was optimistic that the bill would die in the House. "When this started, all anybody was hearing from were the people who sell gas," he said. "Now, a lot of people in the House are starting to hear from people who buy the gas--moms and dads who think this is bad for working families."
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