News of potential gasoline shortages are announced, and retail gas prices seem to rise immediately. Consumers suspect price-gouging, but what can they do? Not much in Maryland, reports the Baltimore Sun. Maryland officials are ill-equipped to investigate allegations of gouging in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. Like many states not often hit by natural disaster, Maryland has no emergency price-protection law. Earlier this year, the state attorney general proposed a bill to limit price increases on “essential goods and services” during emergencies declared by the governor or president, but a legislative committee unanimously rejected it after lobbying by gas distributors and retailers.
At least 19 states have laws or regulations that prohibit price-gouging on petroleum products or other goods in the aftermath of disasters, according to a manual prepared by the National Consumer Law Center in Boston and state attorneys general. In New York, for example, the law was used to punish retailers who sold generators at up to 60 percent above their retail price after a hurricane in the 1980s. Several of the states with aggressive price-gouging laws are frequently hit by hurricanes, such as South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Florida lawmakers strengthened their restrictions earlier this year, making violations a criminal offense.