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Idaho’s gas retailers are making record-breaking profit margins, but the AG is blocked from investigating


Gas prices are starting to fall nationwide, but prices in the Treasure Valley are still hovering around the $5 mark. 

Data from the Idaho Attorney General shows Idaho gasoline retailers are making record-breaking profit margins on the sales of gasoline statewide. For the week of July 14, the Idaho average wholesale price for gasoline was $3.93 per gallon and retailers were turning around to sell it for an average of $4.60 a gallon. This gives the retailers a profit margin of 67 cents per gallon, the highest ever recorded in Idaho. 

This means even as wholesale prices have come down, prices are staying high. But, even though this is a higher profit margin than what retailers were charging in 2020 when Attorney General Lawrence Wasden accused Idaho’s largest gas station chains of price gouging, the government can no longer hold these companies accountable in the same way it did two years ago. 

These profit margins are out of reach for the AGs office for two reasons. Idaho’s price-gouging laws aren’t in place when there is no emergency declaration and there’s new state legislation. 

“It is what it is,” Deputy Attorney General Brett DeLange said in an interview. “We don’t have the legal authority to address it so it’s not like the office of the AG can address the issue because there’s no (emergency) declaration in place.”

Emails to gasoline chains Jacksons, Maverik and Stinker Stores requesting comment were not returned by press time. 

What happened in 2020?

When Governor Brad Little issued an emergency declaration for COVID-19 in March of 2020, it activated certain provisions in the state’s consumer protection laws that prevent retailers from charging “excessive or exorbitant” prices for goods. 

So, once the Attorney General saw profit margins hitting record-breaking 63 cents per gallon for the state’s three largest gasoline retail chains, the office served demands to investigate the matter more closely. Ultimately DeLange said the AGs office did find all three major Idaho gasoline retail companies, Maverick, Stinker Stores and Jacksons had charged “excessive and exorbitant prices” for gas. 

The companies disputed this and entered into negotiations with the AG, which led to a $1.5 million settlement in November 2020 and credits to consumers that lowered prices beyond what they otherwise been in Idaho. 

The landscape changed in 2021 when the Idaho Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association brought a bill to the Idaho Legislature that prevented the AGs office from considering profit margins when investigating allegations of gas price gouging. The bill, SB 1041, passed unanimously out of the Idaho Senate,  61-7 with two legislators absent in the House of Representatives and signed by Governor Little. 

Wasden spoke out against the bill as it was passing through the statehouse, saying it would “undercut” his ability to protect consumers from exorbitant prices. 

“It’s extremely rare that I speak publicly on the merits of a particular piece of legislation,” Wasden wrote in a 2021 press release. “But you deserve to know about this bill. If you believe that gas prices shouldn’t be excessive or exorbitant during an emergency, you need to contact your legislators now and let them know.”

Going from gas at a loss to a record high 

It wasn’t too long ago Idaho’s major retailers were selling gas at a loss. 

Gas profit margin data from the AGs office shows relatively low-profit margins earlier this year, with margins of 13 cents a gallon for the week of May 5. These margins steadily dropped week by week until the week of June 2 when the profits dipped into the negatives. For two weeks in June, Idaho’s gas retailers sold their gas for 8 cents and less than one cent below what they paid for it, putting them in the red. 

Chart created by Margaret Carmel

Margins began to climb again starting the week of June 16 to a profit margin of 8 cents per gallon and it has continued to climb since to the latest margins of 67 cents per gallon. DeLange said these large margins aren’t unusual nationwide right now. 

“These are margins we’re seeing all over the country, so it’s not like these guys are doing something and everyone else is different,” DeLange said. “The nationwide margin last week was 80 cents a gallon. (Idaho’s margins) are still high. It’s still a record high for Idaho, but there are pretty large margins around the country just in the last week.”

If you live in Idaho, you have to get used to paying up at the pump. Idaho consistently ranges in the top ten most expensive places to buy gas nationwide. Before taxes, DeLange said Idaho gas prices are the 9th most expensive in the nation with taxes removed. 

Data from AAA says Idaho’s average gas price is currently $5.02 per gallon for regular gas, which is up from the national average of $4.41. Idaho’s average prices are down from a month ago when they were $5.20 per gallon, but still way up from the price a year ago at $3.73 per gallon. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story had a headline that imprecisely described the reason for the AG being blocked from investigating high gas price margins. It has been corrected.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the number of votes in favor of SB 1041. It has been corrected to reflect that 61 legislators voted in favor and seven voted against.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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