WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden warned oil and gas companies Wednesday not to use Hurricane Ian as an excuse to hike prices at the gas pump as the Category 4 storm storm barrels into Florida.
"Do not - let me repeat - do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gauge the American people," Biden said in a speech at the White House.
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The president's warning
Minor impact so far: Biden said only 190,000 barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico have been impacted so far by Hurricane Ian, accounting for just 2% of daily U.S. production.
'No excuse': Biden said the "small, temporary storm impact on oil production" should provide "no excuse" for price increases at the pump. "None," he said.
'American is watching': If gas companies use Hurricane Ian to raise prices at the pump, Biden said he would ask federal authorities to investigate whether price gouging is occurring. "America's watching. The industry should do the right thing."
What the law says about price gouging
In Florida, state law prohibits selling essential commodities including gasoline at an "unconscionable price" during an emergency declaration. A price is considered "unconscionable" when there is a gross disparity between the price during an emergency compared to the 30 days beforehand.
In all, 37 states have regulations against price targeting during emergencies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan association that monitors, tracks, and researches legislation that impacts state politics.
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Although no federal law explicitly prohibits price gouging during natural disasters, the practice is subject to federal antitrust laws that ban anticompetitive business practices
The Federal Trade Commission prohibits "price fixing," and the FTC has the power to enforce consumer-protection laws targeting "unfair or deceptive acts or practices" and open investigations to obtain data on how companies set gas prices.
Biden is working to get ahead of any potential impact Hurricane Ian could have on gas prices, which have dropped considerably since the summer, helping his once-dismal approval ratings improve.
The average price of a gallon of gas Wednesday was $3.765, according to AAA. Although up more than a nickel over last week, it's down from more than $5 in mid-June.
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The president doesn't want to see that trend reversed, particularly 41 days before the midterm elections.
By delivering a warning shot to oil and gas executives, Biden is going after one of his favorite targets. The president has regularly criticized the oil and gas industry - unpopular among the Democratic base - this year for record profits amid historic prices at the pump.
What they're saying
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and gas industry, said in a statement, "Gasoline prices are determined by market forces - not individual companies - and claims that the price at the pump is anything but a function of supply and demand are false."
Andrew Gross, spokesman for AAA, said, "Hurricane Ian could cause problems, depending on the storm's track, by disrupting oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and impacting large coastal refineries."
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association said in a statement: "Our country has seen time and again that major storms and often-correlated runs on gas stations can have a swift impact on prices." The group said the temporary closure of some gas stations in Florida and heightened local demand will cause disruptions. "The market is resilient and will work to fix this imbalance swiftly, but a return to normalcy will likely not be immediate."
According to GasBuddy, which tracks gas prices, about 10% of gas stations in Florida are currently out of gas.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden warns oil industry not to use Hurricane Ian to raise gas prices