PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With gasoline prices soaring over the past week, it’s natural to wonder if anyone is taking advantage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to unfairly raise prices.
In an exclusive interview seen only on KDKA-TV, Financial Editor Jon Delano spoke with Attorney General Josh Shapiro about rising prices in Pennsylvania.
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When gas prices soar 40 to 50 cents a gallon in seven days, it’s hard not to suspect that something illegal is going on. But is it?
Shapiro says he can’t know for sure because he no longer has the authority to investigate price gouging.
“When Republicans in the Legislature moved this constitutional amendment, which was ultimately supported by the people, to end the Governor’s statement, it also ended the Attorney General’s ability to prosecute price gouging” , Shapiro said. “And so it’s harder for us to go out and protect consumers.”
WATCH: Jon Delano reports
Pennsylvania is one of those states that combines an attorney general’s price gouging investigation with a governor’s declaration of an emergency. Shapiro had that power during the COVID emergency until the legislature ended it.
“My office was able to engage in thousands of price gouging investigations, whether it was for Purel or masks or other things that were associated with really big price spikes at the time, and we have held a lot of businesses and corporations accountable,” he said. “The problem is that today we can’t do that.”
With so many players in the gasoline market—producers drilling for oil, refiners turning it into gasoline, distributors shipping gasoline to various regions, and your neighborhood gas station dealership—there is no It’s not easy to tell who, if anyone, is cheating.
“Not all price increases are price abuse. It certainly puts a strain on people’s purses and wallets and family budgets, there’s no doubt about it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a price hike,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro says he would really like to see the governor and the legislature give any attorney general the autonomous power to investigate price gouging.
“I hope they all come together and give us the authority we need to protect consumers at the pump, to protect them at the grocery store or wherever they see significant cost spikes,” Shapiro said. .
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WATCH: One-on-one reports with Shapiro
What exactly is a price hike?
“It’s the idea of a seller taking advantage of an extreme event to charge a price that’s totally disconnected from producing or delivering the product,” says Professor Jeremy Weber, an economist at the University of Pittsburgh.
Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Warner, a Fayette County Republican who chairs the House Energy Subcommittee, supports legislation giving the attorney general the power to investigate price gouging.
But Warner adds: “There is nothing preventing the governor from declaring a state of emergency. I don’t know if we’re still at that stage.
In the meantime, the state has consumer protection and deceptive marketing practices laws, so Shapiro always wants to know about suspected price hikes at the pump.
If you think you have been the victim of a price gouging, contact the Attorney General’s office. KDKA also contacted the governor’s office. So far, no decision on whether to declare an emergency over energy pricing or the impact of the war in Pennsylvania.
Click here to learn more about filing a complaint.
State-by-state gas prices
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Cheap Gas in Allegheny County