LANSING (AP) – Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox warned gas station owners yesterday against using the outbreak of war with Iraq as an excuse to sharply boost gasoline prices.

“While the pressure on prices during this time of crisis is naturally intense and complex, the attorney general’s office will be vigilant in protecting consumers from erratic and unwarranted spikes in the price of gasoline,” Cox said in a statement.

“Anyone looking to gouge consumers while our men and women risk their lives overseas will be dealt with swiftly and severely.” Cox said he has seen no evidence of gas gouging, despite recent increases attributed to tight oil supplies that had driven prices to their highest level of the year – $1.77 a gallon – before prices started falling this week.

But he noted that under the state Consumer Protection Act, a retailer is prohibited from charging prices that are “grossly excessive.”

Stations found to be gouging drivers are subject to fines of up to $25,000.

Cox said the attorney general’s office monitors retail gas prices and wholesale costs daily in an attempt to detect any gouging. After the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks, the attorney general’s office charged more than 40 retailers with excessive pricing. Jennifer Granholm, now governor, was attorney general at the time.

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