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12/12/2011 Rep. Azzinaro questions higher gas prices in Westerly
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro has always called Westerly home and wouldn’t think of living anywhere else.

“I love it here,” said Representative Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly). “It is a great community in a beautiful part of the state.”

As nice as it may be, people living in Westerly do have to get to other parts of the state from time to time, and there-in lies perhaps the only downside of living in that community.

“I would really like someone to explain to me, and others living along the south coast, why gas prices are so much higher in South County than in other parts of the state,” said Representative Azzinaro, who began investigating the matter several weeks ago. “I have contacted AAA and the Department of Business Regulation, and cannot seem to find a satisfactory answer.”

Representative Azzinaro said he’s also contacted the Office of the Attorney General and Energy Rhode Island, a non-profit advocacy organization, and both indicated there is no way to control prices at the individual gas stations. (A spokesperson for the Attorney General said that price fixing, or an agreement to sell gas for a certain price, could violate federal laws but is difficult to prove.)

Representative Azzinaro said he’s noticed as much as a 25- to 30-cent per gallon difference between gas stations in the Westerly area and those in other parts of the state, such as Warwick and Providence.

“I don’t want to suggest there is any price-fixing or gouging going on here, but it just doesn’t seem right,” he said.

Westerly’s location may be a big part of the reason, according to petroleum industry analysts. Because Massachusetts gas taxes are lower than Rhode Island’s, prices at stations in areas of Rhode Island near the Bay State tend to be lower than those in the southern part of the state, which are in competition with stations in Connecticut, where gas prices are affected by that state’s much higher gas taxes. (Rhode Island’s gas tax is 51.4 cents, as compared to 68.7 in Connecticut and 41.9 in Massachusetts.)

“I understand that may be what’s going on,” said Representative Azzinaro, “but it still doesn’t make it right. If the station in Westerly is charging $3.58 per gallon because the nearby station in Connecticut is charging $3.61, wouldn’t it make more sense for the Westerly station to charge, say, $3.31 a gallon, which is more in line with stations in other parts of the Ocean State? Imagine how much more business that station would get if it charged prices closer to what other Rhode Island stations are charging. By keeping their prices inflated closer to Connecticut stations, I think Rhode Island gas stations are doing their customers a disservice. It may not be price-fixing or collusion, per se, but it hardly seems fair.”

Representative Azzinaro said he is continuing to search out an appropriate answer for why there is such a price discrepancy, but that if he doesn’t get what he believes is a satisfactory answer, he intends to introduce legislation to create a commission to investigate the issue.

“I don’t think Westerly drivers should have to bear such a much higher price for gas simply because they live closer to Connecticut than Rhode Islanders living in Warwick,” he said.

For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457