ACT NO. 210
Commerce and trade; consumer fraud;
petroleum and heating fuel products
This act adds two sections of law to the consumer fraud provisions of Title 9 relating to price gouging in the sale of petroleum and heating fuel products and requirements for price plans and prepaid contracts for the retail sale of home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas.
For a petroleum or heating fuel-related business to charge an unconscionably high price during or up to seven days prior to a market emergency for a petroleum or heating fuel product is deemed a violation of the Vermont consumer fraud act. A market emergency must be declared by the Governor and continues for 30 days or until terminated by the Governor. Market emergency is defined as "any abnormal disruption of any market for petroleum products or heating fuel products, including any actual or threatened shortage in the supply of petroleum products or heating fuel products or any actual or threatened increase in the price of petroleum products or heating fuel products resulting from severe weather, convulsion of nature, supply manipulation, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, strike, civil disorder, act of war, terrorist attack, national or local emergency, or other extraordinary adverse circumstances." Petroleum or heating fuel product is defined as "motor fuels, liquefied petroleum gas, fuel oil, kerosene, and wood pellets used for heating or cooking purposes." A price is unconscionably high if the amount charged represents a gross disparity from the price charged by the business in the usual course of business immediately prior to the date of the declaration of the market emergency or the price at which the product can be purchased in the same trade area, and the disparity is not substantially attributable to increased prices charged by suppliers or increased costs due to the market emergency.
A contract for the retail sale of home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas that offers a guaranteed price plan must be in writing and must disclose the terms and conditions of the plan. A solicitation for a guaranteed price plan that could become a contract upon a response from a consumer must also be in writing with the terms and conditions disclosed in plain language. A contract shall also indicate the amount of money paid by the consumer, the maximum number of gallons of fuel committed by the dealer to be delivered, and that the contract is secured by one or more of the options provided in the act. No dealer can enter into a prepaid contract without providing sufficient security to ensure that the fuel will be delivered to the consumer. The dealer shall reimburse the consumer for any contracted fuel that is not delivered by the end of the contract within 30 days of the end of the contract. A dealer has a private right of action to bring suit against its supplier for failing to honor its contract with the dealer.
Effective Date: July 1, 2006
The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street