The State of Texas officially accused 127 gas stations of price gouging during the Hurricane Harvey disaster. This follows an investigation conducted into thousands of consumer complaints received by the Consumer Protection Division.
Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Consumer Protection Division sent written violations to these businesses on Monday over the purported price gouging incidents that occurred amid the state of emergency declared for Hurricane Harvey. All of these cases involved consumer complaints against gas stations that allegedly charged $3.99 or higher for a gallon of unleaded gasoline or diesel, according to the Attorney General’s office.
“At the outset of Harvey, I made it clear that my office would not tolerate price gouging of vulnerable Texans by any individuals or businesses looking to profit from the hurricane,” said Paxton in a written statement. “We’ve given 127 alleged offenders an opportunity to resolve these issues with our office or face possible legal action for violating state law.”
Throughout the hurricane and in its aftermath, the Consumer Protection Division received around 5,500 price gouging complaints. Texans emailed photos and receipts as evidence to the Attorney General’s office.
Interestingly, many of the businesses receiving violation notices are located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Breitbart Texas reported on the sudden panic that gripped Dallas in the midst of Hurricane Harvey, which happened hundreds of miles away along the Texas Gulf Coast and in the Houston area. Although unaffected by the cataclysmic storm, Dallasites frantically raced to gas stations, triggering long lines and an overwhelming demand that left pumps empty. Some stations reportedly responded with price hikes.
Texas officials assured the state’s residents there was no dip in gas supplies, still many panicked given news that Harvey’s record rainfall hit the heart of the U.S. oil industry, causing flooding, shutdowns, and outages in Houston area refineries that represented around 15 percent of the nation’s total refining capacity.
As fears of fuel shortages drove people out to gas stations over the week, prices spiked about 17 cents per gallon. Gas Buddy listed regular at one Dallas Shell at $3.57 a gallon. Reportedly, a 76 station in Garland jacked up its price for regular to $8 per gallon.
At that time, Paxton responded to complaints about $6 and $8 per gallon gas prices in Dallas and around the state by issuing a stern warning to gas stations against taking advantage of Texas consumers.
“Price gouging is illegal, and the Office of the Attorney General has authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after a disaster has been declared by the governor,” said Paxton.
The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) prohibits anyone from taking advantage of a disaster declared by the governor and selling or leasing fuel or other necessities for excessive or exorbitant prices. The law also authorizes the attorney general to file price gouging lawsuits, and seek refunds of money unlawfully taken from consumers, as well as filing civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation, and issuing court orders to prevent future violations.
According to Paxton, the probe into determining if other businesses price gouged Texans continues.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.