State website lets public report possible price-fixing; links to conservation strategies
Portland, OR – Governor Ted Kulongoski and Attorney General Hardy Myers launched a website today that provides information on how gas prices are set and regulated, links to conservation strategies, information about tax credits for projects that reduce energy use in transportation, and invites Oregonians to help detect unlawful conspiracies in gasoline pricing.
The Governor and Attorney General also urged the next session of the Legislature to pass an anti-price gouging law as part of Oregon's overall effort to achieve energy independence and cope with skyrocketing prices at the pump.
"I've urged the President to take steps to force oil companies to invest their soaring profits in alternative energy sources or greater production capacity," Governor Kulongoski said, referring to a letter he sent to President Bush on April 26. "I support corporate profitability, but not on the backs of working Oregoniansand not at the obscene levels we're seeing today."
The Attorney General also announced plans to participate in a meeting on gasoline prices with attorneys general from 47 states, the US Attorney General, and the Chair of the Federal Trade Commission. The Governor emphasized action the state has already taken toward achieving energy independence, despite the apparent inability of the federal government to address skyrocketing gasoline prices.
Gas Price Reporter website
The state's new website, called the "Gas Price Reporter," enables Oregonians to report evidence that might suggest unlawful conduct in gasoline pricing.
"The Gas Price Reporter is a simple and easy way for Oregonians to participate in the difficult work of distinguishing between high but lawfully-established gas prices and unlawful price-fixing conspiracies," the Attorney General said. "Although the high price of gasoline does not in itself establish any violation of law, it is unlawful for competitors to conspire to fix the price of gasoline. I will aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone who unlawfully fixes the price of gasoline in Oregon."
The website is available from both the Governor's website (http://governor.oregon.gov) and the Attorney General's website (www.doj.state.or.us).
Both the Governor and the Attorney General stressed the need for state legislation that addresses price-gouging by oil companies. "Oregon must not remain in that minority of states that lack gasoline price-gouging laws," the Governor said.
Attorney General Myers repeatedly has sought to persuade the Legislature to enact a law allowing officials to limit price increases for critically important commodities in an emergency.
"Last session, I offered a modest proposal that would have given the Attorney General authority to intervene when price increases on essential products and services exceeded 20 percent in an area designated by the Governor as suffering from an abnormal market disruption." Myers said. "The Senate passed my proposal but it was not ultimately approved by the Legislative Assembly. We must try again in 2007."
Under Myers' 2005 proposal, A-Engrossed SB 209, the Governor could declare that a market for critically important goods and services had been disrupted by a natural disaster, terrorism or sabotage. Although the proposal would not authorize the Governor to take action to limit prices in today's market circumstances, it would provide a means to respond to exploitation of consumers in the situation noted.
State programs and services
The Governor summarized state and local programs and services that can help Oregonians cope with high gasoline prices.
"Drive Less. Save More." This is a Metro-sponsored campaign aimed at educating drivers by showing them how to reduce fuel consumption through shortening their travel distances, driving "smart," and other techniques. More information on the campaign is available at http://www.drivelesssavemore.com.
Tax credits. Many Oregonians aren't aware of the state and federal tax credits that are available to help reduce the cost of investing in ways to save fuel, the Governor said.
Business Energy Tax Credit. Business can obtain reimbursement for investments in transit passes, carpooling, vanpooling and telecommuting. More than 300 businesses in Oregon have invested nearly $18 million in these efforts, reducing more than 316 million vehicle miles, the Governor said.
Hybrid Vehicle Tax Credit. Any buyer of a hybrid vehicle for personal use may take advantage of the state's tax credit of $1,500, in addition to the federal government tax credit, which ranges from $650 to $3,150. The Oregon Department of Energy offers more information on business and residential energy tax credits at www.oregon.gov/energy.
"Oregonians are not powerless to fight the hardship of high fuel prices," the Governor said. "Smart driving and taking advantage of tax credits are useful ways to ease the economic pain."
State government sets the example, leads way to energy independence
The state takes seriously the need to invest in alternative fuels, the Governor explained. "Today, 23 percent of the state's motor vehicle fleet is either hybrid or alternative fuel, meaning that it runs on biodiesel fuel or ethanol. That's more than 800 alternative-fuel vehicles. My policy is to make that number grow."
Though the state has made strides toward reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, the Governor has proposed an aggressive biofuels package to present to the Legislature in 2007. The package would create market demand for biofuels and create new incentives for building ethanol and biodiesel facilities in Oregon. It would also provide for growing the feedstock needed to create the fuels.
"During the third quarter of last year, the state saved about $37,000 in fuel costs, just by using alternative fuels," the Governor said. "We can make this savings grow, while making the air cleaner and fighting global warming."
Attorney General Myers co-chairs the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Antitrust Committee. The Committee, and NAAG's Consumer Protection Committee, invited all state Attorneys General to join in a request to meet with US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Trade Commission Chair Deborah Majoris as soon as practicable to discuss state and federal cooperation and coordination to deal with unlawful conduct. Forty-seven states joined Oregon in requesting the meeting. The request follows earlier requests from the states for federal investigation of gasoline prices. In a letter written to the FTC Chair in October, 2005, Myers and other state Attorneys General expressed serious concern about the spike in gas prices following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.