U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today announced a new website to help consumers track gasoline prices in Vermont, where prices in the northwestern part of the state are 30 cents above the national average.
Sanders also said he plans to work with Vermont state lawmakers to hold hearings and draft state legislation on gas prices.
Some fuel dealers in Vermont, Sanders said, "are keeping gas prices artificially high simply because they can."
In addition to highlighting the best gasoline pump prices in Vermont, Sanders' website, "Consumer Watch: An Eye on Gas Prices," explains how prices are set by tracking wholesale gas prices, profit margins, taxes and transportation costs for fuel haulers.
Gas prices in northwestern Vermont are significantly more expensive than in the rest of the state and country. For seven consecutive weeks from mid-September through October, northwestern Vermont was one of the 10 most lucrative markets to sell gas in the 13-state northeastern region of the United States according to the Oil Price Information Service, one of the leading national organizations that track fuel prices.
So far this year, the region comprising Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin counties ranked as the 10th most profitable market in the United States to sell gas. "We are in the midst of a terrible recession and many working families who drive long distances to and from work are hurting. Gas station owners have a right to make a profit, but they don't have a right to rip people off," Sanders said.
The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in northwestern Vermont on Monday was $3.65 -- 31 cents more a gallon than the national average, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Statewide, the average price this morning was $3.60 a gallon, or 26 cents a gallon more than the U.S. average.
Sanders, who serves as a member of the Senate energy committee, held a Senate field hearing in Burlington, Vt., last August to continue his investigation into why prices are so much higher throughout northwestern Vermont. The central finding: the concentration of ownership of filling stations in that region results in limited competition and prevents prices at the pump from falling as wholesale gas prices decline.
One of the reasons for the lack of competition may be directly related to the fact that the three largest gasoline distributors in northwestern Vermont (S.B. Collins, Champlain Oil, and R.L. Vallee) own more than half of the filling stations in the region. Sanders invited the head of each company to speak with him about why they are charging upwards of 30 cents a gallon more than in other parts of Vermont. He has called on them to be more competitive.
"No one is disputing that gasoline distributors have a right to make a profit," Sanders said. "In my view, however, they should not be ripping people off in these tough economic times."