By Karl Grossman
There ought to be a law is the wishful expression. And when it comes to zone pricing of gasoline, finally there is a law in New York State. And it works.
Amazingly, after years and years of gas prices on the East End being substantially higher than in western Suffolk County, in recent weeks they’ve not been far apart—in fact, now sometimes they’re even lower in the east.
The reason for the higher prices on the East End: zone pricing, a marketing practice of the oil industry under which gas stations in various geographic areas charge different wholesale prices. The aim: to sock it to ostensibly richer areas.
But after a decade, a bill finally made it through the New York State Legislature—long lobbied against by the oil industry—which prohibits zone pricing. It was signed into law by Governor David Paterson in November.
Long championed by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, the measure carries a hefty penalty: $10,000 for each violation.
Even the fabulously wealthy oil industry would have to be concerned with what it would end up paying for repeated violations of the statute.
Right after it was enacted, Mr. Thiele wrote to oil companies informing them of the law and advising they had better comply with it. He noted that “as a state representative of the South Fork of Long Island, for years my constituents have been subject to these prices which financially constrain working families and individuals, seniors, and those on fixed income.”
Since the law’s passage, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigators have been out in the field checking for compliance, Mr. Thiele was saying from Albany last week.
And lo and behold, last week gas was as low as $1.99 a gallon at some stations on the East End—a few pennies less than the average price to the west. Mainly, it was several pennies higher.
“The differential has definitely narrowed,” commented Mr. Thiele. He says “between the new law and the attorney general’s office” being on the case, change has occurred.
Meanwhile, “we still plan to firm this up further,” Mr. Thiele said, with additions to the law to cover company-owned gas stations.
It’s amazing what a law—and enforcement of it—can mean. (Not infrequently laws are enacted but enforcement is nonexistent or lax and there is no change.)
Indeed, last year Suffolk Executive Steve Levy, who as a county legislator, state assemblyman and county executive has been super-active in introducing laws to deal with societal problems, held a “There Oughta Be a Law” initiative.
County residents were asked to recommend ideas. There were 180 submissions. The idea of Willard Christy of East Islip for a law that would require that unused prescription medicines be disposed of in a safe manner won the contest. His prize: his idea became a Suffolk law.
Mr. Christy, at an awards ceremony, explained how he came up with his suggestion: “You can open any major newspaper and read about drugs contaminating our waters on a regular basis…Our aquifer is less than 100 feet below the surface; that’s very close to the surface and our septic tanks. These drugs and chemicals can easily seep in and contaminate our drinking water.”
His idea led to a law, introduced by Legislator Steve Stern and overwhelmingly passed, that has established a “pharmaceutical disposal program.” Work is now underway to set up disposal sites throughout the county for old medicines.
“It was great to get a firsthand glimpse into many of the issues that are on the minds of residents in Suffolk,” said Mr. Levy who signed the measure in September.
Many of the other suggestions would also “make excellent laws but unfortunately need to be enacted at the federal, state or local town level,” he added. He said Mr. Christy’s idea “is just the type of forward-thinking I was looking for in creating the ‘There Oughta Be a Law’ program.” Mr. Levy plans to repeat the contest this year.
Now some would say: enough of government regulation. But when it comes to zone pricing of gas, the disposal of potent drugs, and many, many other issues, there sure need to be laws.