The price of gasoline has direct and significant impacts on Oregonians. Much economic activity is fueled by gasoline. Gasoline is a major expense in most households. In a free market in which manufacturers, distributors, and retailers conform to the requirements of law, prices for commodities such as gasoline should rise and fall in accordance with supply and demand.
In general, it is unlawful for competitors in any marketplace - including the gasoline market - to conspire to fix the price of goods or services. The law does not forbid a business from unilaterally setting the price for its goods and services. No state or federal law limits the price that a retailer may charge for gasoline.
Laws against conspiracies in restraint of trade are, in part, intended to make it possible for consumers to find the best price that they can for the products they desire. Several online websites exist to help gasoline consumers find the lowest possible price. Simply search for "Oregon gas prices" in any internet search engine to obtain a list of such websites.
Because of the importance of gas prices to Oregonians in all walks of life, this office invites information that might suggest the presence of an unlawful conspiracy in restraint of the sale of gasoline. For example, in 2004-2005, in response to over 120 complaints submitted to the Department of Justice regarding the high price of gasoline in Oregon's Southern Coast, the department initiated an investigation to determine whether these price increases were due to market conditions or were the product of anticompetitive behavior in violation of state or federal laws. The department found insufficient evidence to conclude that the prices were the result of illegal anticompetitive behavior. To read a copy of the full report summarizing the investigation, click on the link below.
Oregon Department of Justice's Report on Fuel Prices: 2004-2005 (pdf)
More recently, the Department of Justice joined a number of other state Attorneys General in an investigation of gas price hikes following Hurrican Katrina. To date, none of the recent investigations has yielded evidence of unlawful conduct in the pricing of gasoline.
The gasoline that Oregonians consume is the end product of a complex international system of production, refining, and distribution. No individual state effectively can address allegations of unlawful conduct at the national and international levels. The Attorney General repeatedly has called upon federal authorities to investigate allegations of unlawful conduct. The following links will connect you to some of the requests.
On June 12, 2006, Attorney General Myers organized a meeting between state Attorneys General, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Deborah Majoras. At the meeting, it was agreed that the states and federal government would pursue close cooperation as the FTC conducts its investigation of petroleum products marketing at the direction of President Bush. On July 3, 2006, the National Association of Attorneys General submitted a list of recommended issues to be considered in the FTC's investigation.
To learn more about the gasoline industry in general, please visit the following links.
On the national level, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has authority to investigate allegations of unlawful conduct in the petroleum industry in the United States. An explanation of how current market conditions impact the price of gasoline at the pump can be found at the following link:
The Oregon Department of Justice invites your assistance in collecting data that might help distinguish between the lawful operation of the marketplace for gasoline and unlawful conspiracy in restraint of trade. Although a rapid and dramatic run-up in the price of gas charged by all of the retailers in a community would not in itself establish that any unlawful conduct had occurred, it could serve as a flag for further inquiry. If you observe a rapid and seemingly uniform increase in the price of gas in your community, and you have some reason to believe that it results from something other than competition between independent merchants or global oil prices, please use the Gas Price Reporter link.
More information about price gouging during an abnormal disruption of the market.