Gas prices shot up this week to their highest levels in seven years, largely because of the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline last weekend following a cyber attack.
The national average for gasoline has jumped 8 cents per gallon in the last week, to $3.01, according to AAA. It’s the first time the national average hit $3 since 2014.
In some areas, prices have increased more dramatically, leading to questions of price gouging. For states that have laws against price gouging, most of them don’t recognize a possible violation until the state has declared an emergency. As of Wednesday afternoon, at least four states have declared an emergency surrounding the pipeline shutdown. They are Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
While businesses are permitted to charge higher prices in response to market forces, they aren’t allowed in states with price gouging laws to increase prices excessively to take advantage of a emergency such as the pipeline shutdown, a hurricane or the pandemic. Different states have different benchmarks for what’s excessive, but often, price increases of 20 percent may qualify as price gouging.
Gas prices on Wednesday were highest out West and in Illinois, followed by states such as Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia and Colorado, according to AAA. You can look up the average in your state here.
Consumers who believe gas stations in their state are price gouging can report the issue to their state attorney general. Here’s the information you should provide:
The name of state and the address.
The price and the type of gasoline.
The date and time.
In part because of the shutdown and in part because some consumers fear shortages, more drivers are filling up to guard against an empty tank. Numerous states are reporting huge numbers of gas stations have run out of gas, according to GasBuddy. Most are in the Southeast and include: 65 percent of stations in North Carolina, more than 40 percent of stations in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, 16 percent of stations in Tennessee, and 6 to 11 percent of stations in Alabama, Florida, Maryland and Washington DC.
How can I report price gouging?
You should report suspected price gouging to the company and your state’s attorney general. Here’s the contact information for each state’s attorney general:
Online Report Form: https://ccformsubmission.ilattorneygeneral.net/
Phone Number: 1-800-386-5438 (Chicago)
Línea Gratuita en Español: 1-866-310-8398
Phone Number: 601-359-3680
Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.