O'Malley calls for state legislation to control gas prices

Mayor says anti-gouging law is needed

April 26, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

As the public once again grapples with the soaring price of gasoline, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley called yesterday for a state law to ban price gouging at the pump - an initiative that failed in this year's legislative session.

Renewing discussion of a portion of his newly released energy platform that was largely lost in the debate over electricity deregulation, O'Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said companies that try to squeeze extra profit from already high prices should face stiff penalties.

"Every time you think it can't go up any more, it seems like it does," said O'Malley, standing on the corner of West Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road, near four gas stations where prices ranged from $2.99 to $3.09 for a gallon of regular unleaded. "We can and must do more to keep the price of gasoline affordable."

A price-gouging proposal that died in the General Assembly this year would have forbidden companies from charging more than 10 percent over cost if the governor were to declare an emergency. Offenders would have faced criminal and civil fines under the measure.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a chief supporter of the anti-gouging legislation, said the state does not directly ban the practice.

"We would have been better served to have passed this law, to have it on the books, possibly never to be used," said Curran, who added that he conducted a study of 180 stations after Hurricane Katrina last year and found that most stations did not engage in gouging.

Campaign officials for O'Malley's Democratic rival, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, pointed to a news release Duncan distributed in 2005 that called for an inquiry into gouging and stated Duncan's support for legislation.

"The mayor is at it again, following Doug's lead," read the statement from Duncan's campaign manager, Scott Arceneaux. "And, once again, Mayor O'Malley has arrived late, very late, to a discussion about an important issue affecting the pocketbooks of hard-working men and women in Maryland."

O'Malley, who traded in his usual sport utility vehicle to arrive at the news conference in a sky-blue Ford Escape hybrid, has also said that, as governor, he would require 10 percent of the state government's vehicles to be hybrids or run on alternative fuel.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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