Motorists find discrepancy in valley’s gasoline prices

Joel Stonington

With high gas prices comes the inevitable talk of price gouging. If only people could get paid for all the talk, just a nickel per mention of price gouging in the media or on Capitol Hill would be enough to make gas cheap again. Or maybe not.Skyrocketing prices are good for big oil and sad for the little guy. In Aspen, the consumer pays $3.64 a gallon. The odd thing is the 60-cent discrepancy between Aspen and El Jebel, 22 miles away. Mike Hasfield, the owner of two gas stations in Aspen, declined to comment.”I just think it’s kind of bizarre,” said Aspen resident Dan Levinson. Levinson recently drove from Rifle to Aspen, where he noticed price differences. “By the time I got up here, the station next to The Aspen Times is 90 cents more than what I paid in Rifle.” Presumably, the difference comes down to rent, taxes and other costs that are higher in Aspen. But that leaves open the question of gouging. What is gouging?There is no law against asking for $10 a gallon. Free-market economics rule the price of gas. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., however, has proposed a bill that would define gouging as “excessively unconscionable price increases,” a phrase she swiped from a New York state statute. The law would make it a crime to “take unfair advantage of the circumstances to increase prices unreasonably.” Civil penalties could reach $3 million. Gougers could face trial as criminals, fines of up to $1 million and five-year jail sentences. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is