Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling for a federal investigation to determine why gasoline prices in Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin counties are higher than the rest of the state. It's a trend he says is concerning.
"When four companies control 58 percent of the market, they have the capability of maintaining artificially high prices. The question we should be asking is why down in Middlebury, why in Rutland, why in Springfield, why in other areas prices are significantly lower than they are here," said Sanders, I-Vermont.
Tuesday, Sanders sent a letter to the U.S. attorney general and the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, urging the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group to start investigating the price discrepancy. According to the latest numbers, gas in Rutland and Middlebury averages around $3.30 per gallon compared to $3.60 and higher in the greater Burlington area.
"Do gas stations have the right to make a profit? Of course they should, but is there the kind of competition, vigorous competition that we see in other parts of New England taking place here? That's what we want the FTC to look at," Sanders said.
He says that gas prices fell just 15 cents last month in greater Burlington, making it the lowest price reduction region in all of New England's 15 metro areas.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: So, are you alleging that there is price fixing possibly going on?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: That's exactly what we're asking the FTC to find out.
If gas dealers worked together to keep prices higher, that would be illegal. But the senator stopped short of saying these four gasoline distributors were doing anything criminal.
Reading: But that question that you have, is it motivated by a feeling that there may be something criminal or illegal going on?
Sanders: I just gave you my answer. You're trying to put words in my mouth.
Reading: No, I'm not.
Sanders: No, you are. You used the word criminal, right?
Reading: Well, if it's an investigation...
Sanders: It's an investigation to ask why gas prices are substantially higher in this part of the state than in other parts of the state. That's the question. I want the FTC to answer that. That's all. That's a question.
Reading: But if you're asking a federal authority...
Sanders: No. We ask investigators to look at that. You put the word criminal.
Reading: No, I'm asking you.
Sanders: No, you put the word. No I am not saying that. I'm asking the FTC to do an investigation. Why are gas prices here 20 cents a gallon higher than they are in Middlebury for example? Do you know the answer to that?
Reading: I do not. No.
Sanders: Then that's what we're after the FTC to find out.
The senator says that there are legitimate reasons why gasoline prices vary, like long distances from refineries, but says that should only translate to pennies, not a 20 to 30-cent difference.
We reached out to the four gasoline dealers that Sanders named in his letter. Champlain Oil, SB Collins, Simon's and RL Vallee declined to comment. Joe Choquette, who represents the gasoline dealers, had not returned our calls when this story was published.
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