Attorney General Roy Cooper mentioned Monday that Western North Carolina accounted for the heaviest share of the gas-price gouging complaints his staff received over the weekend. That's not surprising when you look at how widely the average pump prices varied across the state.
Running from west to east, the Ike-fueled average price for self-service regular peaked at ...
* $4.303 Monday in Asheville, a record
* $4.181 Monday in Charlotte, a record
* $4.106 Monday in the Triad, a record
* $4.058 Tuesday in the Triangle, a record
* $3.982 Tuesday in Fayetteville
* $3.984 Tuesday in Wilmington
Triangle gas prices have fluctuated wildly in recent weeks from one street to the next. Average prices frequently vary by a few pennies from one city to another.
But why was a gallon, on average, 25 cents more expensive this weekend in Asheville than in Raleigh? I have no earthly idea.
Cooper said he had subpoenaed 7 gas retailers in mountain and Piedmont counties for price records after consumers said they had charged at least $5.49 a gallon over the weekend.
There had been worrisome signs Friday that a pinch in supplies was sending prices skyrocketing. That's why I thought I got a shockingly good deal Saturday when I paid "merely" $3.989 for premium at a station that had run out of regular.
It doesn't seem to have been as awful as had been feared, or as bad as it was when Katrina hit us three years ago.
Maybe there were more than a few stations pricing the stuff above $5. But I never saw regular posted higher than $4.29, and the highest local price reported Saturday by The N&O's Sue Stock was $4.79. Yeah, that's bad.
Or is it? The free-market spinners at the John Locke Foundation said Ike's prices would have spiked a lot higher if Cooper and Gov. Mike Easley had not issued warnings Friday that they planned to punish greedy gougers.
But the Lockers didn't mean that as thanks. Not one but three of them took to the Web to deplore that fact that gas prices had been stunted by the heavy hand of government:
* Cooper and Easley's "irresponsible and indefensible threats of prosecution deterred some service stations from pricing their scarce gas stocks rationally," John Hood said.
* "Gas station owners are afraid to raise prices in light of threats of prosecution from state government," Roy Cordato said.
* "What business is it of the state’s if gas sellers and buyers decide voluntarily on a price agreeable to each?" Jon Ham said.
Cheer up, guys. You can voluntarily drive to Asheville.