Kentucky governor takes emergency action to protect against infant formula price gouging

Published 9:48 pm Thursday, June 9, 2022

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear took emergency action Thursday to prevent price gouging amid a nationwide baby formula shortage, and he requested relief for Louisville-area motorists forced to pay more at the pump for reformulated gas.

The Democratic governor’s actions were aimed at pressing issues facing consumers amid what he calls the “challenging present” caused by rampant inflation and supply chain disruptions.

Beshear signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency over the baby formula shortage. The emergency — which lasts for 30 days under state law — activates price-gouging laws to protect families from “predatory pricing” at a time when baby formula supplies are limited, he said.

The governor said at his weekly news conference that he took the preemptive action without having received any reports of price gouging from the state attorney general’s office.

“We can’t wait for somebody to increase the price double or triple,” Beshear said. “We’ve got to enter this order right now so people know that if they try to take advantage of moms and dads who are rightfully frightened … that we have the safeguards already in place.”

Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office later said it had received three reports from consumers related to concerns about the price of baby formula. Cameron is among several Republicans running for governor next year, when Beshear will seek a second term.

Cameron’s office said the price gouging website and hotline were activated. Kentuckians can report suspected price gouging by visiting or by calling 502-696-5485.

Meanwhile, the governor said Thursday that he sent a letter to top federal environmental regulators requesting a waiver to remove the requirement that costlier but cleaner-burning reformulated fuel be sold in Metro Louisville.

“While reformulated gas helps cut down on pollution and is therefore important, during these difficult times the reformulated blend is adding an additional cost — somewhere between 20 and 30 cents more per gallon to Kentucky families who just can’t afford it,” Beshear told reporters.

“The people who live and work in the Louisville area shouldn’t have to shoulder this additional burden during what is already such a challenging time,” he added.

If approved, the waiver would be in effect for up to 20 days, the governor said.

“We’re looking at what is possible after that,” he said. “But my understanding under the federal law is that is the initial waiver period.”

Several Republican state lawmakers gathered at a Louisville gas station Thursday to urge Beshear to seek a suspension of the reformulated fuel requirement for Jefferson County — which includes Louisville — and parts of neighboring Bullitt and Oldham counties.

The governor can’t unilaterally suspend the mandate, but instead must petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for such a suspension.

At their news conference, GOP Rep. Kevin Bratcher referred to the reformulated gas requirement as a “tax that people in my district and most districts around here are tired of paying.” Urging Beshear to take action, GOP Rep. Jason Nemes said: “We will commend you. We want you to join us.”

“We’re in a time of crisis,” Nemes said. “We’re about to eclipse $5 a gallon gas in Jefferson County. That doesn’t need to be so. In most counties in Kentucky, the gas is 30 cents cheaper today.”

About the same time as the GOP news conference, Beshear said he was signing the letter seeking the waiver to allow conventional, more affordable gas to be sold in the Louisville metro area.

Beshear later said his action wasn’t in response to the push from lawmakers. The governor said his administration had been working on the request to federal regulators for several days.

“I’m glad that it appears that we all agree that this step should be taken,” he said.

The EPA in the 1990s started requiring cities with high smog levels to sell reformulated gasoline — known as RFG — which is blended to burn cleaner than regular gasoline and reduce smog-forming and toxic pollutants like volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Those pollutant levels have significantly decreased since the RFG mandate went into effect for Jefferson County and parts of Oldham and Bullitt counties, though the cost of such gas is higher, the Courier Journal reported.

Beshear’s announcements Thursday were his latest actions to offer relief for inflation-battered consumers. Beshear last week took action to freeze Kentucky’s gas tax, an emergency step to prevent a looming rate increase. In February, he granted immediate relief to Kentucky taxpayers hit with pandemic-related increases in their vehicle property tax bills.