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Sanders calls for investigation of Vermont gas prices

On July 3 U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a federal investigation into unusually high gasoline prices in the greater Burlington area compared to other parts of Vermont, New England and other areas throughout the country.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Sanders wrote: "I am writing to urge the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group and the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a joint investigation to determine why gasoline prices in greater Burlington, Vermont (Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin Counties) are substantially higher than other parts of the state, New England, and similar areas throughout the country." Sanders spoke with the FTC chairman about the investigation on Monday afternoon.

During one month, prices in greater Burlington fell just 15 cents a gallon - from $3.84 to $3.69 for regular unleaded. That's the lowest price reduction in any of the 15 metro regions throughout New England, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report data. The average price drop at these New England metro areas for a gallon of regular unleaded was 25.9 cents during the month examined.

Greater Burlington, as defined by AAA, includes Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin Counties. The analysis conducted by Sanders' office used the AAA data for monthly gas price changes with the month ending June 25.  During this same time period, prices fell as much as 34 cents per gallon in Manchester, N.H.

A price discrepancy is often seen with some of Vermont's neighboring states.  Monday morning, for example, Vermonters paid an average of $3.55 a gallon for regular unleaded. Meanwhile, motorists in New Hampshire paid $3.36 a gallon, on average.  The modest 7-cent tax differential between the two states does not explain this 19-cent price discrepancy, which is even greater - 27 cents a gallon - when compared with greater Burlington, where regular unleaded sold for an average $3.63 a gallon Monday morning according to AAA data. The average price of regular unleaded sold in Vermont has been selling for more than the national average since April 2012, while gasoline in New Hampshire gas has been selling for less than the U.S. average since May 2012.
While there is an expense to transport gasoline, one of the industry's leading experts, Ben Brockwell, the director of data, pricing and information services for the Oil Price Information Service, states that hauling gasoline by truck 70 miles would add just 3 cents to the price of a gallon of gas.

In Middlebury - just 35 miles south of Burlington- prices were as low as $3.35 a gallon on Monday and most filling stations there sold fuel for no more than $3.40 a gallon, according to VermontGasPrices.com Meanwhile, on the same day, a gallon of regular unleaded in St. Albans cost at least $3.63 a gallon.  At some Burlington stations, a gallon of gas was just shy of $3.70.

For a 20-gallon fill-up, the quarter more a gallon paid at some filling stations in greater Burlington translates to a $5 premium on a tank of gas.

In his letter Sanders asked the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to determine whether or not high prices in Chittenden County were related to the fact that the four largest gas station companies in the county control 67 of the 115 filling stations, or 58 percent of the total.

Tagged: Sen. Bernie Sanders, gas prices