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Hearing on alleged price gouging by Marathon Petroleum set for Thursday

FRANKFORT — A Franklin Circuit Court judge declined Monday to issue a restraining order against Marathon Petroleum, saying he should hear more testimony before deciding whether Marathon illegally raised gas prices during a time of emergency.

Judge Thomas Wingate set a hearing for 9 a.m. Thursday, at which experts on wholesale gas prices are expected to testify.

Attorney General Jack Conway filed a motion Friday alleging that Marathon had violated an emergency order issued by Gov. Steve Beshear in late April after heavy rain caused widespread flooding, mostly in Western Kentucky. The state of emergency prohibits price gouging during disasters.

Conway asked the court to temporarily stop Marathon from charging more for gasoline than its wholesale price on April 25.

Conway's office alleges that Marathon raised prices while the emergency order was in effect, despite no comparable increase in costs to the oil company. Gas prices, in some cities, jumped 30 cents overnight.

"Kentucky consumers are suffering at the pump," Liz Natter, a deputy attorney general, said during a brief hearing Monday before Win gate. Gas prices in many major Kentucky cities — including Lexington — topped $4 a gallon last week.

Sheryl Snyder, a lawyer for Marathon, told Wingate that the only reason the attorney general's office was seeking an injunction, which would freeze gas prices, was because Tuesday is Election Day. Conway is unopposed in the Democratic primary for attorney general.

Conway later dismissed the argument, saying he was doing his job by sticking up for Kentucky consumers.

Snyder said that wholesale gas prices have dropped already and that if an injunction was granted, Marathon would have to raise gas prices back to the price of April 25. But Conway and lawyers for his office countered that they wanted to ensure that Marathon did not continue to raise prices even if gas prices had recently gone down.

The motion was filed as part of an ongoing lawsuit against Marathon and its wholly owned subsidiary, Speedway LLC, for alleged price-gouging violations after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

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