A motorist fills up on Long Island. (April 6, 2011)

A motorist fills up on Long Island. (April 6, 2011) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) is asking the state attorney general's office to investigate what he calls "price gouging" by gasoline suppliers and wholesalers on the South Fork during the Memorial Day weekend.

Thiele accused suppliers and wholesalers of violating the state law prohibiting "zone pricing" of gasoline -- charging different prices based arbitrarily on the geographic location of the station. Thiele said in a statement that "while gasoline has dipped below $4 a gallon on the North Fork and in other areas of Long Island, gasoline prices have seemed frozen in time for the last month on the South Fork, above $4.25."

That estimate, he said, is based on his own observations during the many miles he drives around his district and he claims that the differential between prices on the South Fork and elsewhere on Long Island has grown in the past months.

An official with the New York State Petroleum Council, a trade group representing oil producers and refiners, including those who wholesale, said there's no collusion and blamed the price differential partly on a relatively few gasoline stations for the South Fork's population, which soars in summer. "Quite often it just has to do with area competition," said associate director Kathy Kenny.

A group representing station owners and operators, the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, said higher prices on the South Fork were set largely by wholesalers but that higher rents in Hamptons locations and higher trucking costs from terminals in Holtsville and Inwood were other factors. "There are a lot of variables that go into pricing on the street," said Kevin Beyer, the group's president.

The AAA says the average price for all of Long Island for regular has declined since May 12 and was $4.082 a gallon Tuesday. The Nassau-Suffolk average had peaked May 12 at $4.284 a gallon. The decline since then follows a drop in crude oil since its peak April 29 of about $114 a barrel for the U.S. benchmark grade to around $100 a barrel recently.

Thiele is proposing legislation to close what he terms loopholes in the 2008 zone pricing law. It would allow wholesalers or retailers to seek redress in court if they were hurt competitively by a zoned price. Current law leaves enforcement entirely to the attorney general's office.

Attorney General spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua in Manhattan declined to comment on Thiele's legislation and said the 2008 law has never been applied but it will be if the office finds violations. The office began a "comprehensive review" of gasoline prices statewide earlier this month.

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