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Midwest Oil fined for selling gas too cheaply


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Midwest Oil fined for selling gas too cheaply

The state imposed a $140,000 penalty for what it called "willful, continuing, and egregious" violations of the price law.

Tom Ford, Star Tribune

Last update: February 24, 2006 – 1:05 AM

The Minnesota Commerce Department on Thursday announced plans to fine a gas station chain $140,000 for repeatedly selling gas below the state's legal minimum price.

The fine against Midwest Oil of Minnesota is twice as large as any imposed on a company since 2001, when the state established a formula based on wholesale prices, fees and taxes to determine a daily floor for gas prices.

The price law was intended to prevent large oil companies from driving smaller competitors out of business, but some critics argue it fails to protect consumers.

According to the Commerce Department, the Midwest-owned stations in Anoka, Oakdale and Albert Lea sold gas below the minimum price on 293 days in 2005.

Kevin Murphy, deputy commissioner of the department, called the violations "willful, continuing, and egregious and warrant a substantial penalty."

The company has 30 days to contest the fine by requesting a hearing.

In previous cases, companies were fined anywhere from $500 to $70,000 for selling gas too cheaply.

And in those cases, the companies and the department generally had agreed on the amount of the penalty.

Midwest had not cooperated with the department on a penalty, and was accused by the department of using several delaying tactics before the matter could be resolved.

Midwest officials couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

Midwest is a subsidiary of the Wisconsin-based Science and Technology Institute, led by Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and several Minnesota legislators have urged a repeal of the state's minimum price rules.

Critics have argued that it ends up costing most customers an extra dollar or more to fill up, without adding to tax revenues.

Defenders of the law say it's critical to protect small and medium-sized stations.

They note that unlike large chains, those stations often can't cushion below-cost gasoline with sales of other merchandise.

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