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SENATOR FOR SUING OIL COMPANIES OVER PRICING

The wide disparity between fuel pump prices on St. Croix and those on St. Thomas and St. John has prompted one St. Thomas senator to urge the Justice Department to look into possible legal action against the two major suppliers, Esso Virgin Islands and Texaco Caribbean.
The current average price per gallon for gas is $1.75 on St. Thomas and $.99 on St. Croix, Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus said.
The two oil companies "have engaged in a contract with Hovensa," the Hess Oil Virgin Islands consortium with Venezuela that operates the huge oil refinery built by Hess on St. Croix in the 1960s, Petrus stated in a letter to Attorney General Iver Stridiron. The contract, he said, "requires them to use the price benchmark of the Gulf Coast Standards," and thus, "based on fluctuations of the Gulf Coast Standards, consumers of the St. Thomas-St. John District are left to bear the cost burden of unnecessarily elevated gasoline prices."
In his letter, dated Sept. 22, Petrus cited his findings regarding intervention by attorneys general in two states that he said could serve as precedents for similar action in the territory:
In Hawaii, Petrus said, suit was brought against 13 corporations including refiners and major gasoline wholesalers "for systematically overcharging service station operators and consumers." The suit contends that the state's refiners and fuel wholesalers "agreed to fix gasoline prices at an artificially high level and to allocate market shares among themselves," he said.
And in Florida, Petrus said, a civil suit was filed against a pharmacy chain accusing the company of billing customers different prices for the same prescription medicines and charging the firm with deceptive trade practices, civil theft and racketeering. Computer software was designed to permit price increases which were passed to uninsured customers without their knowledge, he said.
Petrus did not provide information on the status or outcome of either legal action.

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