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CBS News: Stations Boycott Their Own Gas Over High Prices

May 24, 2007 7:10 pm US/Eastern

(CBS News) MEQUON, Wis. It’s not just drivers who are sick of high gas prices. Sky-high numbers at the pumps have prompted some Wisconsin service stations to boycott their own high prices and stop selling fuel.

With Memorial Day— the traditional start of the summer driving season — upon us, AAA says prices at the pump have continued to rise, though increased supplies might help prices start leveling off in time for the long weekend.

It says the national average for regular unleaded gas has topped $3.22 a gallon; that is up 37 cents from a month ago. Illinois had the highest state average price for regular unleaded, $3.52.

AAA says the Midwest is being hit especially hard because its refineries are under repair.

Only one state, New Jersey, averages less than $3 a gallon for regular unleaded.

Manager John Schwartz of the Towne Market Mobil in the Milwaukee suburb of Mequon said that $3.59 a gallon is too much for people to pay, so he’s got his own solution: He has decided to shut down the pumps in protest.

He said the business will close the pumps at midnight Thursday and re-open them on Friday. Schwartz says the move will cost him some money, but he’s willing to foot the bill to protest the high prices.

Schwartz says he and the station’s owner got the idea from a national gas boycott e-mail that circulated about a week ago.

“Somebody’s got to try it, and I guess I’m the first to do it,” Schwartz told CBS affiliate WDJT.

Yellow tape now surrounds the pumps at his station. The convenience store is still open, however.

In Brookfield, Wis., Jeff Curro has been selling gas for 20 years at his Shell station. But not now: he’s also turned off his pumps because the price he’s paying to supply the gas to his customers is just too high.

Curro says his three-cent-a-gallon profit margin is eaten up by the credit card companies that get an average of 3 percent on every gallon sold. Credit-card processing fees rank as the second-biggest expense for gas station owners.

Casey O’Gorman has also stopped selling gas at his West Allis Shell station; he’s now doing business only as Auto Analyzers.

But experts doubted that the one-day boycott of gas stations popularized in the e-mail would have any beneficial effect for consumers — and would only end up hurting small businesses rather than oil corporations.

“Logically it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” said Tyson Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

Protesting drivers would simply shift their gasoline consumption from one day to another, and would not hurt overall sales, Slocum said.

“If you want to make the oil industry nervous, don’t threaten them with something you can’t threaten them with. What would be far more effective is if folks spent their day calling up their senator or Congressperson and demanded they do something about record oil company profits,” he said.

Enough people may have done that to encourage Congress on Wednesday to narrowly pass legislation that would impose stiff penalties for those found guilty of gasoline price gouging.

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