JEFFERSON CITY - Attorney Jay Nixon announced Wednesday that his office will investigate possible gas price gouging in response to Hurricane Katrina.
Some Missouri gas stations jumped prices from 20-30 cents per gallon overnight. The highest gas prices were reported as high as $3.09 per gallon in the Kansas City area.
"It is very disconcerting," Nixon said of the increases. "We are looking at it with a definite edge in our attitude."
Nixon said the investigation will monitor how much was paid for gasoline in comparison to how much was actually charged to consumers. Nixon's office will look at prices from a 20 day window examining gas retail and supply prices from the previous 10 days and the next 10 ongoing days.
Once a clear picture of the profit margin is determined, then, Nixon said, they will have a base line to evaluate price increases and profit margins. "As long as the margin stays the same, no prosecution will take place," Nixon said.
Nixon announced his investigation shortly after Gov. Matt Blunt had sent Nixon a letter requesting the investigation.
In response to gas price increases after Sept. 11, 2001, Nixon took action against 48 Missouri stations for price hikes -- eventually collecting about $60,000 in fines.
"We have seen price gouging in our state before, and I will not permit businesses to reap unjustified profits by using a natural disaster as an excuse to gouge customers," Blunt said.
The attorney general, however, warned that higher gasoline prices may be unavoidable.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Nixon more than once noted that eight oil refineries have been shut down along the Gulf Coast.
Associate Professor of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla and Chairman of the Dept. of Natural Resources Gas and Oil Council Shari Dunn-Norman said, "We (United States) barely have enough refinery to keep up as it is and now with all of the refinery shut down on the coast, it makes the situation even more difficult."
As of 9:30 Wednesday morning, Nixon reported of 43 complaints by Missouri residents of possible price gouging.
Nixon encouraged anyone with a concern to dial the consumer complaint hotline at 1-800-392-8222.
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