Sen. Bernie Sanders testified on Tuesday before three committees of the Vermont House looking into why gasoline prices are consistently higher in Vermont than the rest of the country. Sanders said gasoline prices in Vermont are significantly greater than the national average and prices in northwestern Vermont usually are 20 cents to 30 cents more per gallon than elsewhere in the state. The extra $5 a fill-up that motorists are charged in northwestern Vermont adds up to hundreds of dollars more a year. “Gas station owners have a right to make a profit, but they don't have a right to rip people off,” Sanders said.
Calling from Washington, where the U.S. Senate was in session, Sanders spoke to a joint hearing by the Vermont House transportation, commerce, and judiciary committees.
In northwestern Vermont, three gas distributors control at least 54 percent of the filling stations. The four largest filling station owners control at least 118 stations, nearly two-thirds of the gas stations in that part of the state. As a result, Sanders said, competition is limited and prices frequently are about 25 cents a gallon more in northwestern Vermont than stations just 40 miles away in Middlebury, Vt.
At Sanders’ request, the Federal Trade Commission determined that gas prices in the greater Burlington area this past summer were as much as 43 cents more per gallon than they should have been. Recently, the consumer webpage Gasbuddy.com reported that Vermont had the sixth highest average price of gasoline in the country.
During a U.S. Senate hearing that Sanders chaired last summer in Burlington, Vt., an economist from the Oil Price Information Service, a leading organization that tracks fuel markets across the United States, testified that gasoline prices in that region of the state are higher because of a lack of competition. The Burlington market – which includes Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin Counties – consistently is one of the most profitable markets in the country.