District 8 candidates tap gas prices as big election issue | PostIndependent.com

District 8 candidates tap gas prices as big election issue

Collin Smith
Craig Daily News
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

CRAIG, Colorado ” Both candidates for state Senate District 8 have taken up gas prices as an issue for Northwest Colorado residents.

Both have been sufficiently moved by price differences throughout the region to determine if some action is necessary.

Democratic candidate Ken Brenner first brought up the issue in August.

At the time, he said the “significant” price differences between communities in the same region ” such as gas being 20 cents more in Craig than Steamboat Springs and 50 cents more in Glenwood Springs than in Grand Junction ” seemed too large to attribute to the free market alone.

Brenner has said the state needs to be aware of what Northwest Colorado consumers pay for gas and take any action that’s necessary. If elected, Brenner would make the issue a priority, perhaps convening a legislative committee to examine regional prices or pass consumer protection statutes, if warranted.

At first, Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, said he dismissed the idea of “pricing irregularities” at local gas stations because it seemed like there were too many retailers to coordinate such a scheme.

However, White ” Republican candidate for Senate District 8 ” sent a letter Tuesday to the Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and asked the state’s highest law enforcement official to investigate.

“I believe there are irregularities in pricing that simply cannot be accounted for through the variables of the free market, and that, as a result, the consumers in those counties are being unfairly preyed upon by potentially unscrupulous gasoline distributors,” White stated in his letter.

White, who currently represents House District 5, which includes parts of western Garfield County, makes a distinction between gas retailers and gas distributors.

There are too many retailers in the area for any cooperation in “pricing collusion” to be very feasible, he said.

However, a constituent recently told White that a small number of wholesale gas distributors deliver fuel to all stations in the area.

It could not be determined by press time how many gasoline distributors operate in Moffat County or on the Western Slope. However, the Colorado Department of Revenue reported there are 418 “wholesale fuel distributors” now operating across Colorado

White wants the state to look into the distributors, he said, and see if they are manipulating the markets within different communities. “That’s what I want the attorney general to figure out,” White said.

Although both candidates feel prices need to be examined, they have different views on what course of action should be taken if improprieties surface.

White cautioned that the Legislature’s involvement, which Brenner has introduced as an option, would be a dangerous course of action.

The Legislature doesn’t “investigate those kinds of issues,” White said. “That is the purview of the attorney general. I think any legislative fix to set the price of gasoline is a huge mistake. The free market sets the best price.”

If free market activities have driven up prices ” which White said is a possibility ” the state representative said he would encourage added competition.

“It’d be great to have some competition in our market,” White said, adding he has made calls to City Market and Safeway and asked if they could bring their own gas pumps to Western Slope stores.

“I think they’re favorable to it,” White said. “It would put a downward pressure on our market.”

Brenner said he is surprised to hear White take up the cause he introduced in August.

“I was glad to hear my opponent is taking this seriously,” Brenner said. “This is something that’s been going on for a long time. I think it seems a little more than disingenuous to support this a month before an election.”

The District 8 Senate seat includes all of Garfield County and is currently held by Republican Jack Taylor who is leaving the seat this year.

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