CONSUMER ALERT: STATE LAWS PROVIDE PROTECTIONS AFTER MAJOR WINTER STORM

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February 20, 2013

LITTLE ROCK - With significant winter precipitation expected to impact the State, Arkansans can expect hazardous driving conditions or damage from fallen trees and limbs.

As they prepare for winter storms, consumers who rely on liquid propane gas for home heating should know that Arkansas law provides an important consumer protection in the event that they run out of fuel during a major winter storm.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today to remind Arkansans about that protection, as well as the state's price-gouging law, which may be triggered during a state of emergency.

"Major winter storms can cause disruptions in normal delivery service for LP gas, and that could be dangerous for residents of rural Arkansas who use LP gas to heat their homes," McDaniel said. "There are safeguards in place to help protect Arkansas consumers in the event they are affected by a storm."

Most Arkansas consumers who use LP gas to heat their homes rent tanks from the gas provider. Normally, the provider who owns the tank is the only entity allowed to fill the tank. However, the General Assembly amended the LP gas law in 2009 to permit other providers to fill a tank if the tank owner and primary provider is unable to make a timely delivery.

The amendment was approved after the 2009 ice storm, during which some providers shut down deliveries.

The law is in effect when the governor declares a state of emergency and the Director of the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Board issues an order to invoke provisions of the law.

Regardless of whether a winter storm is expected, McDaniel recommended that consumers check their tank levels regularly and order tanks to be filled as needed. Consumers should also consider owning their own tanks instead of renting them. Tanks that are owned by the homeowner can be filled by any provider, making it especially convenient if one provider is backed up during cold-weather deliveries.

Another protection for consumers during an emergency is the Arkansas Price Gouging Law. If a state of emergency is declared, then the price-gouging law prohibits many businesses from increasing prices by more than 10 percent. The prohibition continues for 30 days after the governor or president declares the state of emergency.

The law sets a 10-percent cap on prices of most items related to storm recovery, including food and water, batteries, fuel and construction materials.

Businesses may exceed the 10-percent cap in limited situations, such as if the business were to establish that the higher price is directly attributable their added expenses, like those imposed by a supplier or higher labor and materials costs. Even then, the business can charge no more than 10 percent plus the mark-up normally applied by the business before the emergency declaration.

Civil penalties for violating the price-gouging law may be as high as $10,000 per violation.

For more information about the LP gas law, contact the Liquified Petroleum Gas Board at (501) 683-4100.

To report price-gouging violations, to file complaints related to the winter storm, or for other consumer issues, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at (800) 482-8982 or visit www.ArkansasAG.gov.

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