Assemblywoman backs bill to prevent regional gas price disparities _ northcountrynow

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, has co-sponsored legislation she says will ensure “North Country motorists are not treated unfairly when they fuel up their vehicles.”

The bill, which passed the state Assembly by a 117-11 margin this week, adds amendments to legislation passed in 2008 to prevent zone pricing for retail motor fuel based on geographic location, Russell said.

Assemblywoman Russell, speaking on the floor of the state Assembly during the debate over the bill, said she “wanted to add her voice to the chorus of members of the Assembly supporting the measure to illustrative the pervasiveness of the issue.”

“It is certainly been brought to my attention by certain pockets of the district that I represent. It doesn’t happen in some places or maybe not as much, but certainly in the far northern part of my district in St. Lawrence County there certainly appears to be great discrepancies in the price of gasoline,”Assemblywoman Russell said in a prepared statement. “And so I commend the sponsor for bringing this forth and for all of my colleagues that have shown the spotlight on really just how this reaches every corner of this state. And that it is an important issue that is past it’s its time for us to address,” she said.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., said the amendments had been recommended by the Attorney General’s Office. He said the Attorney General’s Office had indicated the vagueness of wording in the 2008 legislation had prevented the office from using the law to prosecute cases, according to Russell.

The law is intended to address great fluctuations in gas prices from community to community, Russell said

“Lawmakers have acknowledged natural market conditions, including the cost of crude oil, transportation costs and natural market occurrences, cause some of those fluctuations,” according to Russell. “But they have charged there are other cases where disparate fuel costs are the result of artificial manipulation of the market through zone pricing, a tactic of setting different wholesale fuel prices based on geographic location.

“Legislators have argued zone pricing has led to inequities in the price of fuel at the pump for consumers and in different regions of the state.”

The amendments include language that defines relative geographic markets as those supplied by the same fuel terminals. Gas sold at stations in St. Lawrence County, for example, comes from terminals in Albany and Syracuse, Russell said.

Assemblywoman Russell said she had heard concerns in the last several months from local organizations and people. Earlier this year gas prices for regular unleaded gasoline were 30 cents lower in Central New York than in northern St. Lawrence County.

GasBuddy is reporting this week the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is $2.17 per gallon in New York State. The lowest average gas prices per gallon are $2.15 in Watertown, $2.19 in Ogdensburg, Canton and Massena and $2.07 in Syracuse.

There had been a much greater price differential in early February when gas prices were tanking.

Gas was selling for $1.93 per gallon in Watertown, $2.12 in Canton and Potsdam and $2.17 in Massena and Ogdensburg.

The legislation has now been forwarded to the New York State Senate. The bill had also been approved by the state Assembly in June, but it died in the state Senate when it wasn’t moved to the floor for a vote by the senate Rules Committee, Russell said.