In October of last year, Congressman Brian Higgins sent a letter to then FTC chairman William Kovacic requesting an investigation of gasoline prices in his home area of western New York. Historically, prices in Buffalo and surrounding areas have been below the average price in the state, but beginning around the time of Hurricane Ike in mid-September and continuing until late November, 2008, prices in western New York were higher than the state’s average and even higher than in New York City.
Higgins became dissatisfied with the FTC response (or lack thereof) and joined with Sen. Charles Schumer to reiterate a call for an investigation into the region’s anomalous gasoline prices. When a new administration came to DC in early 2009, Higgins and Schumer issued a joint statement calling for the FTC to speed up the inquiry and make the results public.
In March, Higgins and Schumer met with new FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz to urge the agency move forward on the study. According to Schumer’s press release, “Schumer asked [Leibowitz] to conclude the study as rapidly as possible and ensure that FTC not only made the study public, but provided detailed solutions that could be implemented quickly.” A newspaper report said, “Schumer said the agency committed to releasing the results of its investigation when it is completed in a few months.”
The press release further stated:
Chairman Leibowitz acknowledged the unreasonably high gas prices in cities like Rochester and Buffalo and said his agency would look into possible zone pricing schemes and/or collusion, and will examine why gas prices didn’t fall as fast as they did across the rest of New York State. He pledged to conclude the inquiry as soon as possible and to work to find a way to make the findings public.
The press release concluded by emphasizing Schumer’s demand for a quick, comprehensive study, to be made public, in writing, with details on pricing and recommendations for policy responses. Higgins and Schumer had a second meeting with the Chairman in late April.
Mid-May, according to a statement on Rep. Higgins’s website:
In a report to Congressman Higgins the FTC indicated that while they “were unable to identify precise reasons why retail gasoline prices in some cities in Western New York…did not fall as quickly as prices in other Northeast cities…we note that prices began to fall soon after you raised public concerns about the elevated prices.”
Mid-May saw a few brief news reports (example) and Higgins’s statement on his website, but so far as I can determine no FTC report has been made public. Or, at least, no FTC report on New York gasoline prices in late 2008 appears to be posted on the FTC website, Sen. Schumer’s website, or on Rep. Higgins’s website.
The news report linked just above characterizes the FTC’s response as “a letter sent May 13 by FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz to Higgins.” The article quotes from the letter (“unlikely that illegal conduct caused those price levels”), but a letter sent to a Congressman doesn’t seem like a comprehensive study made public in writing, as Higgins and Schumer had repeatedly requested.
(If you know where the report or letter can be found, let me know in the comments. Thanks.)