Texas Gas Station Owners Fighting Price Gouging Claims
RICHARDSON, Texas — Texas gas station owners who have been accused of price gouging in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are preparing to fight back, reported CBS DFW. They claim they were falsely accused, partially due to misunderstanding of price signage.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently announced that the state's Consumer Protection Business sent 127 notices of violation to businesses that raised gas prices to $3.99 or higher per gallon during and after the hurricane, as CSNews Online reported. Price gouging can carry civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation and up to $250,000 per violation for victims over the age of 65 under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
However, Paul Hardin, president of the Texas Food and Fuel Association, stands behind many of the gas stations that received the notices. Both the association and the Texas Attorney General's offices warned gas station owners about the consequences of price gouging, and Hardin believes that most acted on that warning and even took a loss to avoid the appearance of gouging.
"They were selling at below cost for fear of being accused of price gouging," Hardin said. "The price was going up and up and up, and they just didn't want to put the price of that of what the market was actually bearing because they would be fried by consumers."
Many price-gouging complaints were made anonymously or based on social media posts. Hardin believes some reporters misunderstood the posted price of $9.99 per gallon, which some gas station owners used to indicate they had run out of fuel.
Joseph Bickham, president of Fuel City, told the news outlet that his location in Mesquite, Texas, received a price gouging violation notice for charging $3.99 or more despite capping its gas prices at $2.89 per gallon.
"At times, our cost was actually closer to three dollars or a little over three dollars. And we never raised prices that high," Bickham said.
Hardin predicts that the figure of 127 businesses in violation of the law will go down because gas station owners document their prices and will be able to prove their innocence.
"I think you'll probably see that number drop drastically, probably below 30 would be my estimate," he said.
The Attorney General's office is looking into the $9.99 confusion, according to the report.