The Star-News is reporting that several North Carolina gas station owners have agreed to settle price gouging cases. The cases were brought by state Attorney General Roy Cooper after Governor Mike Easley invoked a state law prohibiting the charging of prices that are "unreasonably excessive."
The statute - N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-38 - prohibits such prices on goods that are "consumed or used as a direct result of an emergency or which are consumed or used to preserve, protect, or sustain life, health, safety, or economic well-being of persons or their property."
In order for the law to apply, however, the Governor must first make a finding that there has been an "abnormal market disruption." This is defined in subsection (d) of the statute to include any declaration of a state of emergency or disaster is issued by the President, or the Department of Homeland Security advisory system issues a Code Red alert. Triggering events can include war, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, power outage, or other "extraordinary adverse circumstances."
In the case of the recent September price spikes, the trigger was hurricane Gustav - and the fear that gripped the oil markets - as it moved into the Gulf.