An investigation is underway into whether some propane companies engaged in price-gouging during the recent cold spell while others left customers freezing in their homes because of shoddy delivery service, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
The probe also will look into possible misconduct by propane suppliers who insisted customers had to buy a new propane tank before fuel could be delivered, Schneiderman said.
"I will not allow any business to exploit a weather emergency and leave New Yorkers in the cold," he said in a statement to the AP.
The investigation comes after an Arctic cold front sent temperatures plunging well below zero last week, with wind chills making it feel like minus 30 to minus 40 in some upstate areas. The brutal cold accompanied several feet of snow that has fallen on parts of western and central New York since Christmastime.
Schneiderman isn't naming specific propane suppliers yet, but his office says the problems involving extended delivery delays and other issues were "fairly widespread" across New York.
Officials with the New York Propane Gas Association, a Saratoga County-based trade group, said they haven't received any complaints of alleged price gouging. Executive Director Shane Sweet said propane prices typically are higher in winter, but added that any increases are "nothing close to price gouging."
Schneiderman said there were "systemic failures that left far too many New Yorkers sitting in the cold for far too long."
Some customers had to pay a weekend delivery fee of up to $150 or $200 even though they had called for fuel refills early in the week, his office said.
In one instance cited by the attorney general's office, a member of the U.S. Air Force stationed on the West Coast was attempting to get his family in New York fuel to heat their home. The propane company insisted his wife needed to purchase a new tank before the supplier would fill it, even though the company had filled the same tank before the cold snap hit, Schneiderman's office said.
Snowy weather followed by Arctic conditions impacted propane deliveries, as did mandated limitations on the number of hours fuel truck drivers can work, Sweet said. He said most of his discussions with propane retailers, wholesalers and transporters were about the difficulty they were having keeping up with demand during the deep freeze.