â€œWeâ€™re dead serious about prosecuting people,â€ Bredesen said during a stop to promote Imagination Library Week in the state.
Earlier this week, the Bredesen administration launched an effort to examine whether certain businesses were engaging in gas price gouging in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
As part of the effort, the state attorney general and the commissioners of the Department of Commerce and Insurance and the Department of Agriculture began requesting information from retailers and sent investigators into the field.
Bredesen said the effort has fielded about 500 price gouging complaints, but he could not say whether or not any gas seller is about to be prosecuted.
â€œIf there is any dishonest gouging, we certainly will prosecute it. But thereâ€™s also no question that the price of gas from the wholesalers and price of gas from the refineries went up sharply during that period of time (when Hurricane Ike struck),â€ Bredesen told reporters. â€œ...Thereâ€™s no question that in East Tennessee, there were some sharp increases in the prices from the wholesalers that reflected sharp increases out of the pipeline from the refineries. What weâ€™re looking for is somebody who was not paying a lot extra for gas but was using it as an occasion to bump it up unreasonably high.â€
Under Tennessee law, unreasonably raising the price of essential goods, commodities or services in direct response to a natural disaster here or in another state is price gouging. State law also says price gougers can be subject to a $1,000 civil penalty for each violation. Price gouging is also a criminal offense in Tennessee, according to the governorâ€™s office.
Bredesen said he believes the gas prices spikes are short term.
â€œI went up to see my mother this weekend in the Northeast, and it was $3.60 a gallon. It was absolutely normal...â€ he said. â€œI think there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The prices of oil are falling down nicely now.â€
Consumers who believe they may have been charged unreasonably for a good, commodity or service should complete an online complaint form at www.state.tn.us/consumer/consCompFrm.html or call 1-800-342-8385 to report price gouging activities.
Consumers are being asked to provide as many details as possible including the station, location of the station, the price of the gas, and grade of the gas.