U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked the Federal Trade Commission to keep a lookout for price gougers ahead of Hurricane Irma’s potential landfall on Florida shores.
The Democratic senator sent a letter to acting FTC head Maureen Ohlhausen asking for the commission to watch for spikes in gas prices ahead of the storm and also in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged the gulf coast last week.
Nelson said that the release of 1 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve looks to have kept prices stable in the immediate aftermath of Harvey.
“Hurricane Irma now poses a grave threat to Florida and many other areas of the Southeastern United States. While continued disruption to some refinery operations may continue to contribute to higher retail gasoline prices, past experience in Florida and elsewhere has shown that some unscrupulous operators will seek to magnify these natural price increases to take advantage of consumers – including those that may be trying to prepare for or evacuate from an impending hurricane,” Nelson wrote.
“I ask that you closely monitor retail gasoline outlet pricing in the coming weeks to detect and defeat any price gouging schemes. Thank you in advance for your assistance with this critical consumer and public safety issue,” he continued.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has also opened up the state’s price gouging hot line, 1-865-9-NO-SCAM. Violators of the state’s price gouging statute can face civil penalties of $1,000 per violation up to a total of $25,000.
An advisory released 5 p.m. Tuesday by the National Hurricane Center puts Irma 130 miles east of Antigua, moving at 15 mph to the west. The storm is expected to turn west-northwest for Tuesday evening and through the next couple of days.
The storm is expected to hit the state sometime Friday, but experts are not yet sure which parts of the state will be affected.