A nine-month investigation into gas price gouging in the wake of Hurricane Ike in September has finally singled out three gas stations and one wholesale supplier in South Carolina for excessive price increases.
Those four businesses have reached a settlement with the state to donate a total of $6500 to the American Red Cross for hurricane relief.
South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster says his investigation found price hikes last year were less drastic than in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. He attributes that to a stronger state law against price gouging. After Katrina, McMaster lobbied the General Assembly to toughen the law so his office could activate criminal penalties for price gouging that occurs when market conditions are disrupted.
“‘We made it very clear that we would activate that thing if an emergency like that came up again,” said McMaster. “And we did. And, by and large, people behaved reasonably.”
McMaster says gas prices spiked here as much as 46 percent after Katrina, but only about 11 percent after Ike in September.
McMaster says while the adjusted price for gas along the Gulf Coast reached $5.18 a gallon, Best Stop in West Columbia charged $5.49 and Bobb’s Food and Fuel in Lexington posted a price of $5.79 a gallon.
He says a gas stations in Clinton and a wholesale supplier in Spartanburg also reached a similar settlement. “We thought it was appropriate rather than cranking up jury trials and prosecuting them and spending that money, just to let them pay some money to the Red Cross for hurricane relief. So of the four, it amounts to $6,500.”
There were more than 4,300 consumer complaints alleging price gouging after Ike.