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Despite New Laws, Options Limited In Fighting Gas Hikes

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina's attorney general is armed with a new tool to fight gas price gouging. But even as the area flirts with record-high gas prices, the state is limited in how it can combat the hikes.

When Hurricane Katrina struck, North Carolina drivers watched gas prices rise almost by the hour. Price gouging complaints came in by the hundreds to Attorney General Roy Cooper's office.

Now, nearly a year later prices are climbing ever closer to that peak. The record high for a gallon of gas is currently $3.18, set last September. The current average price is $3.03 a gallon, up 13 cents since last month alone.

This time the cost of gas crept up gradually, and the public outrage has been replaced by surrender.

"It's really a beat down," said Rocky Mount driver Contessa Batts. "You just have to budget for it, whatever the gas prices are going to be."

Following Katrina, state lawmakers passed a tougher price gouging law. But, even with the new law and the higher gas prices, there's still very little that Cooper can do about it.

Cooper said the law would help in the case of another Katrina-like disaster. However, he's still limited in his power to act unless there's a state of emergency or an abnormal market disruption, which is not the case right now.

Cooper pointed out he and other attorneys general are working to put more pressure on big oil companies. They're calling for a federal investigation into supply, demand, and profit.

"You just have to wonder about obscene profits by oil companies," said Cooper.

Drivers like Batts also wonder about the profits. But, when it takes $44 to fill her Ford Explorer, she said she's more focused on her bank account and possibly buying a bike.

"We've gotten used to the abuse," said Batts.


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