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    Minnesota Eyes Price Gouging

    State officials to launch hearings to identify and prosecute offenders.

    During the evening of Sept. 11, as a stunned public still took in the unbelievable events of the morning on the East Coast, many in the Twin Cities were doing that while waiting in long lines at convenience stores and gas stations.

    Even as lunchtime was ending, rumors began circulating around the Twin Cities of an impending spike in gas prices that could drive a gallon of gas up to between $4 and $6, according to WCCO TV in Minneapolis.

    Most of those interviewed by WCCO said they heard from friends and relatives in other parts of the country about spiked prices and expected that they would rise even higher the next day.

    Despite assurances from government regulators and industry observers that there was no reason to believe a price spike was coming, that didn't stop lines from forming around the block at many Twin Cities gas retailers.

    One station posted a $6 per gallon price, and another posted $4 per gallon, but the stations later apologized to consumers and some even offered rebates to those who paid the inflated price, the report said. Some station owners said price increases were simply supply and demand at work, that the demand for the limited amount of gas was so high that prices were raised to dissuade people from lining up.

    But state politicians promised they would look into allegations of the price gouging, and are prepared to launch official hearings this week to catch offenders.

    Gov. Jesse Ventura's commerce commissioner told legislators that it was consumers who were to blame for any inflated gas prices. "Truth of the matter is that all too many consumers on the night of Sept. 11 said, 'Mr. Retailer, gouge me. I will pay what you want to charge,'" Jim Bernstein told legislators.

    But Mike Hatch, the state's attorney general, said that view is wrong. "Everyone is blaming each other, but nobody is blaming the consumer," Hatch said. "I think it is absolutely hogwash for this administration to blame the consumer for the price gouging, and it is gouging, that took place."

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