Yes, Texas has a price gouging law, and yes the Attorney General recently has issued a press release warning against price gouging – actually multiple press releases (Sept 16, Sept 19, Sept 24; a second press release of Sept 16 noted that state hotel tax collections were suspended for persons displaced by Hurricane Ike through October 14.) From the Sept 24 release:
Although Hurricane Ike has left the state, the governor’s disaster declarations are still active, so the OAG continues to have enforcement authority to pursue price gouging complaints. Under Texas law, vendors are prohibited from charging exorbitant prices for necessities such as groceries, clothing, medical supplies, lodging, repair work and fuel during and after declared disasters.
Although state law prohibits vendors from illegally raising prices to reap exorbitant profits during a disaster, it does allow retailers to pass along wholesale price increases to customers. Thus, in some cases, increased prices may not necessarily signal illegal price gouging.
The AG’s office also announced a price gouging case against a hotel operator for price increases during Hurricane Dolly in July of this year.
Nonetheless, at least in West Texas the gasoline seemed barely affected by the market disruption. There was a brief interruption of declining gasoline prices – from early September prices around $3.50/gal. prices jumped back over $3.60/gal. after Ike hit the coast, but this weekend I filled up at $3.35/gal.*
No shortage, no lines, no short tempers.
Another news story suggests the actual positive contributions possible from state government involvement in gasoline markets. Individual wholesalers and retailers might have a hard time coordinating the described emergency planning activities without running afoul of antitrust laws, but working in concert with government emergency planning groups seemed to produce good results.
(*I took a picture of the price with my camera phone to share with you all, but you can’t quite see the price in the photo. You’ll have to take my word for it.
As per standard consumer practice, I’ve ignored the $0.009 part of the price to report the price in whole cents.)