The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 24, 2014

Attorney general warns businesses against propane price gouging

By Jean Cole
jean@athensnews-courier.com

— Farmers and other consumers in Alabama are reporting price gouging of propane gas during the cold snap.

The reports have prompted the governor to enact the price-gouging law and the attorney general to warn businesses that sell or deliver the gas to act responsibly.

“My Consumer Protection Section already has been receiving calls of concern and inquiry from farmers and others who are worried and some are reporting significant price increases within recent days,” Strange said Friday. “With bitterly cold temperatures predicted through next week, it is important that people in rural areas are able to get the heat they need for their personal warmth and survival, and farmers could suffer devastating losses that will affect all of us. I believe Alabama propane businesses will continue to act responsibly as Alabama stands together during this difficult time.”

Alabama’s price-gouging law is triggered when the governor declares a state of emergency. The law bans “unconscionable pricing” of items for sale or rent. Although what constitutes an unconscionable price is not specifically set forth in state law, a price that is 25 percent or more above the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days  — unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost — is a clear case of unconscionable pricing. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, and those determined to have willfully and continuously violated this law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.

Strange urges consumers and officials to report any problems of illegal price gouging to his Office of Consumer Protection by calling toll-free 1-800-392-5658; by writing to 501 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL, 36130; or though the Attorney General’s web page at http://www.ago.alabama.gov.