ST. PAUL -- Gas station owners who hiked prices to as high as $5 per gallon on the night of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were not gouging consumers, Commerce Commissioner Jim Bernstein told state lawmakers Wednesday. He said they were merely responding to demand caused by long lines.
"The truth of the matter is, all too many consumers on September 11th said, 'Mr. Retailer, gouge me,"' Bernstein said during an out-of-session hearing called to examine summer gas price spikes.
Bernstein added that some station owners believed raising prices was the only way they could prevent themselves from running out of gas. "They sincerely thought they were doing the right thing," he said.
Several lawmakers and Attorney General Mike Hatch, however, met Bernstein's comments with skepticism.
"I think it is absolute hogwash for this administration to blame the consumer for the gouging -- and that's what it was, gouging -- that took place," Hatch said.
The attorney general's office has little authority over gas prices unless antitrust or consumer fraud laws are being violated. But prices fell after Hatch and lawmakers announced the day after the attacks they planned to demand information from the stations.
He said Wednesday he plans to continue gathering information about the actions of distributors and station owners that day.
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