Fuel pricing controls sought in New Jersey

| 9/12/2005

New Jersey lawmakers aren’t expected back in session until November, but that hasn’t stopped legislators from both sides of the aisle from floating ideas for dealing with rising fuel costs and the affects of Hurricane Katrina on the prices at the pump.

“Something has to be done about the out-of-control fuel prices drivers are paying at the pump. Government has an obligation to step in and help control the spiraling costs of fuel,” Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew told Land Line.

Van Drew, D-Cape May, said he is considering legislation that would mirror Hawaii’s first-ever state ceiling on gasoline prices. He said New Jersey’s version would include diesel fuel.

A new Hawaii law that went into effect Sept. 1 limits the wholesale price of gasoline at just under $2.16 a gallon.

“Consumers are beginning to raise concerns about possible price gouging, and with justifiable cause,” Van Drew said. “The gas being pumped into our cars today was produced 60 to 90 days ago and cost $40 per barrel. But instead of charging drivers a fair rate for month-old oil, they jack the prices up as soon as the price per barrel increases, showing just how cold-hearted of an industry they really are.”

New Jersey’s proposed price caps, which would depend on a variety of factors, would differ by region.

Van Drew is not alone in his pursuit of rescuing beleaguered drivers.

Assemblyman Francis Bodine, R-Moorestown, said he plans to introduce a bill once lawmakers head back to the capitol that would bar anyone from selling fuel for more than 10 percent above its cost.

“As prices rise to $3 a gallon, we need to take steps to protect consumers from price gouging,” Bodine told The Times in Trenton.

The penalty for a first offense of price gouging could be $10,000, and $20,000 for any subsequent offense, Bodine said.

Assembly Republicans Joseph Malone of Burlington and Ronald Dancer of Ocean are calling for a special session of the Legislature to evaluate the impact of the Gulf Coast storm on fuel prices in New Jersey.

Separately, acting Gov. Richard Codey has directed state offices to increase inspections at fuel stations to make sure consumers aren’t being shortchanged.

In addition, Assemblyman Larry Chatzidakis, R-Mount Laurel, is calling on lawmakers to act on various bills he proposed to make alternative fuel vehicles more available.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor