Gov. Steve Beshear has declared a state of emergency to battle price gouging on gasoline and other items as hurricane Ike moves closer to the Texas coast and Lexington drivers line up to purchase gas.
"I am outraged by the voracious practices of price gouging we are seeing," Beshear said in a statement. "Today, I have taken an extraordinary step to protect the consumers of the commonwealth from these predators."
Speaking to reporters outside the Lexington Health Department, Beshear said he had spoken with Attorney General Jack Conway, who is beginning to investigate complaints that have been pouring into both of their offices all day.
"We just started getting complaints from all over the state," Beshear said, noting that prices of a gallon of regular gasoline were as low as $3.39 per gallon earlier this week but have soared to over $4 per gallon in Louisville and close to that elsewhere on Friday.
Beshear said taking such measures wasn't politically motivated.
"I would ask folks to look at the gas pumps. It's anything but politics," he said. "I think it is an emergency when folks wake up in the morning and all of a sudden they're having to pay 50 cents, 60 cents, 70 cents more at the gas pumps than the day before when the hurricane hasn't even hit anything."
Conway, the attorney general, said in an interview that his consumer protection investigators found that the highest price for wholesale gasoline in Louisville -- generally the most expensive gas market in the state -- overnight was $4.28, but that dropped to $3.98 per gallon by 10 a.m.
In Jefferson County, most gas stations were selling at around $3.99 per gallon, Conway said, meaning retailers were making 1 cent profit per gallon instead of the normal range of 12 to 14 cents.
But Conway said other stations in Paducah, Owensboro and Simpson County have been confirmed to be selling gas at more than $4.60 per gallon.
"The next step for us is to find out what the wholesale prices were for those retailers," Conway said. "Then we've got to figure out whether or not there's some gouging at the wholesale level."
Conway said he advised Beshear Friday morning to issue the emergency order especially in light of Kentucky's participation in an interstate compact established to help hurricane evacuees, the dispatch of national guard troops to help affected areas and the likelihood of receiving heavy rain from Ike.
Anyone with specific complaints about specific gas stations are encouraged to email information to firstname.lastname@example.org because phone lines have been jammed. So many people are having trouble getting through to the attorney general's office that the Secretary of State's office, which has no control over such issues, has been inundated with calls, said Les Fugate, deputy secretary of state.
In Lexington, people lined up two to three cars deep at area gas stations.
"It's been busy all day long," said Jacqueline Wilkinson of the Thorntons on Winchester Road near Interstate 75. "Usually on Fridays we're busy, but nothing like this."
Lerry Campbell of Lerry's Hair Design left work to fill up after hearing concerns that stations might run out. Sure enough. He stopped by the Speedway at Liberty Road only to learn it was out of regular unleaded because of the unexpectedly high demand.
"I was almost on empty," he said.
Some people brought in extra gas cans to fill up. Beside Campbell at Shell was Jean May of Lexington who heard talk that the price might go up a dollar as Hurricane Ike approaches refineries along the Gulf Coast.
She initially passed the Shell and Thorntons, which was charging $3.729, in favor of checking the station at Wal-Mart because "they're usually cheaper." Nope. It was more than 10 cents higher and by the time she returned, Thorntons and Shell had raised their prices.
"Wouldn't you know it," she said laughing.
Lines started forming for gas in Paducah Thursday night with prices still at $3.65, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was traveling to Western Kentucky, reported back to his office.
State Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, said gas was averaging $3.79 in Christian County Friday morning but was up to $4.69 at some stations in Franklin, Ky., near I-65.