U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) today asked the head of the Federal Trade Commission to begin closely monitoring and, if necessary, take swift action against retailers engaged in price gouging as Florida prepares for Hurricane Irma.
“As Hurricane Irma preparations begin in earnest, it is essential that first responders and evacuees in Florida are able to access gasoline and other refined petroleum products free from price distortions caused by anticompetitive practices,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Acting FTC Chairman, Maureen Ohlhausen. “Accordingly, I ask that you closely monitor retail gasoline outlet pricing in the coming weeks to detect and defeat any price gouging schemes.”
Following is the text of Nelson’s letter to the FTC:
September 5, 2017
The Honorable Maureen K. Ohlhausen
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580
Dear Acting Chairman Ohlhausen:
I write today to urge the commission to closely monitor retail gasoline prices in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and in anticipation of Hurricane Irma’s impact, and take swift action against retailers that attempt to use this tragedy to engage in consumer price gouging.
Hurricane Harvey has caused billions of dollars in damage in Texas and Louisiana, and uprooted tens of thousands of families. In addition, it has had a substantial impact on oil refining operations. Over the past week, we have seen efforts to offset the gasoline price increases attributable to supply disruption, including the release of one million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to a refinery in Louisiana that was largely unaffected by the storm. These efforts appear to have stabilized wholesale gasoline prices.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma now poses a grave threat to Florida and many other areas of the Southeastern United States. While continued disruption to some refinery operations may continue to contribute to higher retail gasoline prices, past experience in Florida and elsewhere has shown that some unscrupulous operators will seek to magnify these natural price increases to take advantage of consumers – including those that may be trying to prepare for or evacuate from an impending hurricane.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Congress directed the commission to study the price gouging issue and determine the need for further action in this area. In a 2006 report on this issue, the commission stated that “it has a strong role to play in this area” by both “enforcing the antitrust laws strictly to prohibit business behavior that has anticompetitive effects” and continuing to “remain vigilant about any distortions that may harm competition or consumers in petroleum markets.”
As Hurricane Harvey rescue and recovery operations continue and as Hurricane Irma preparations begin in earnest, it is essential that first responders and evacuees in Florida are able to access gasoline and other refined petroleum products free from price distortions caused by anticompetitive practices.
Accordingly, I ask that you closely monitor retail gasoline outlet pricing in the coming weeks to detect and defeat any price gouging schemes. Thank you in advance for your assistance with this critical consumer and public safety issue.