Keeping an Eye on Gasoline Prices

Colorado rep seeks more reasonable pricing

Published in CSP Daily News

GOLDEN, Colo. -- As Colorado state Rep. Gary Lindstrom stood next to his car at a Golden, Colo., gas station on Saturday taking advantage of the $2.10-per-gallon price, he saw a tanker truck parked across the lot. Approaching the driver, Lindstrom, a member of the House transportation committee, introduced himself and started asking questions.

On Monday, Lindstrom sent a letter to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers asking that Suthers' office look into "possible price fixing and price gouging" in Summit, Lake and Eagle counties on the part [image-nocss] of gasoline retailers, according to a report in the Aspen Times. Suthers replied with a written statement, saying "high prices alone do not suggest or prove illegal conduct by gasoline retailers," adding that his office needs to be presented with evidence of a conspiracy among retailers before undertaking an antitrust investigation.

At the gas station in Golden, Lindstrom told the trucker that, at 50 additional cents per gallon, his 8,500-gallon tanker was carrying thousands of dollars of profit more than those delivering to the Front Range. The driver started laughing. Well, he said, that money's not going to truckers.

"He was obviously a very honest and straight-forward person," Lindstrom said. "He doesn't have anything to do with pricing, but he was quite honestly flabbergasted that one load of his fuel would result in $4,000 worth of additional profit. He knows that when he fills up at the refinery, they charge the same amount whether his load is going to Strasburg or it's going to Breckenridge."

It's that uniform refinery charge that runs through Lindstrom's frustrated mind each time he travels from Summit County to the Denver-metro area, watching the gasoline prices drop consistently along with the elevation, according to the newspaper report.

"If the Attorney General doesn't think that every gas station in three counties having higher than normal gasoline costs isn't evidence of a conspiracy, I don't know what is, but I'll take a look at it and pursue legislation," Lindstrom said when informed of Suthers' response. "I would prefer to have voluntary compliance [from gasoline retailers], but if they're not going to do it voluntarily, we're going to have to find some way to do it legislatively."

Until hard evidence comes forward of an agreement among area gas stations to send prices skyward, however, Suthers and his staff are following the letter of the law.

"The key is the existence of an actual agreement by competitors to fix prices," Suthers wrote. "Charging similar or even identical prices [for] a commodity by watching a competitor's price postings is not price fixing." There is no statute in Colorado concerning price gouging, he added, only price fixing.

Lindstrom said any new actions are unlikely between now and January 12, when congress is back in session, but he said he plans to look into proposing legislation on the matter. He hopes that any proposed bill can "come up with a formula that would require retailers to be more reasonable" in their pricing.