Gas prices lowest in six years, continue to drop, state average $1.99

Gasoline prices are dropping as oil prices slump.
Gasoline prices are falling.

The average for a gallon of regular gasoline in Palm Beach County dropped another 2 cents Monday to $2.15, and could go even lower over the next few weeks.

Florida motorists are finding the lowest gas prices in six years, AAA said.  On Saturday, Florida’s average price for a gallon of gasoline fell below $2 for the first time since March 22, 2009. Monday, the Florida average stood at $1.99.

Bargain hunters could find gasoline as low  as $1.89 a gallon Monday in Palm Beach County, according to Gas Buddy.com.

Murphy USA, at 1050 N. Military Trail north of Belvedere Road in  suburban West Palm Beach is the lowest reported at $1.89, but four other stations have gasoline priced at $1.90. They are Cumberland Farms, 2692 N. Military Trail at Woodstock Drive; RaceWay,  288 N. Haverhill Road at Wallis Road; Speedway, 5019 Okeechobee Blvd. at N. Haverhill Road and Texaco, 2274 Okeechobee Blvd. at Congress Avenue.

Based on typical seasonal trends, the national average price of gas could remain relatively flat, or drop another 10 cents per gallon over the next few weeks, AAA said.

But by late winter, the national average could rise 50 cents per gallon or more as refineries conduct seasonal maintenance in advance of the busy summer driving season. Despite the likelihood of higher prices by spring, AAA does not expect the national average price of gas to rise above $3 per gallon in 2016.

Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst, said Monday, “Talk about starting the New Year off right. The national average at $1.99 is a great way to begin 2016, and over twenty cents lower than where we started 2015. The good news is that we could see even more price drops before the seasonal lift that will likely begin as we push towards Spring.

“The fundamentals of oil remain weak which will contribute to low oil prices for some time, while gasoline demand will likely move lower now with the holidays behind us, putting downward pressure on gasoline prices,” DeHaan said.

Gas prices are likely to remain relatively low in 2016. AAA estimates the annual average price of gas in 2016 is likely to end up between $2.25 and $2.45 per gallon, which would be cheaper or at least comparable to this year’s average of $2.40 per gallon.

“Motorists enjoyed some of the cheapest gas prices in years thanks to a global glut in oil supplies which helped keep the price of oil and gasoline production costs low,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Gas prices remained at their lowest level for the year-end holidays since the 2008-09 holiday season. Increased demand from holiday travelers temporarily froze prices in place, but gas could get even cheaper in January as demand tapers off.”

Energy prices are forecast to remain low next year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA projects the price of WTI oil to average $50.89 next year ($49.08 in 2015), and a gallon of gasoline to average $2.36 – 7 cents lower than last year’s average. According to EIA data, gasoline will average $2.06 in the early winter months (Jan 1-Feb 29), $2.38 in the spring (Mar 1 – May 31), $2.55 in the summer (June 1 – Aug 31), $2.38 in the fall (Sept 1 – Nov 30), and $2.24 for the month of December.

There is significant uncertainty over the potential cost of crude oil in 2016, though most analysts expect the market will remain oversupplied throughout the year, AAA said. There currently is a glut of crude oil around the world that has grown faster than demand, and that situation is unlikely to change significantly as Iranian oil enters the marketplace and because the global economy is growing at a relatively weak pace.

Gas prices could rise higher than expected if there are significant changes in the oil markets. Some analysts have predicted that low prices will significantly limit oil production in the United States and in other higher-cost production countries, which could allow supply and demand to re-balance by the end of 2016. Alternatively, it also is possible that political events and conflict could unexpectedly disrupt oil production. Either of these possibilities could lead to higher than predicted oil and gasoline prices for Americans.

 

 

Chase customers being notified about settlement funds

Chase customers are being notified about how to collect funds from a settlement.
Chase customers are being notified about how to collect funds from a settlement.

Chase customers in Palm Beach County who are part of a $136 million nationwide settlement are beginning to receive postcards instructing them about how to collect their share.

Roughly 5,000 Chase customers in Florida will receive more than $4.6 million as part of a $136 million nationwide settlement announced in July.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to reform its unlawful credit card debt-collection practices through the joint state-federal settlement with Attorney General Pam Bondi, 47 other attorneys general, the District of Columbia, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Florida will receive the largest remedial payment of any state in the settlement, Bondi said. In addition to the $4.6 million going to Chase customers, $1.6 million will go to the state’s general revenue fund.
Another $15.3 million will go to 47 nonprofit organizations to be used for legal services, financial literacy, and other programs related to assisting Floridians with managing debt.

The joint state-federal agreement, through an assurance of voluntary compliance with the states and a separate order with the CFPB, follows an investigation into Chase’s past debt collection practices.
The agreement requires Chase to significantly reform its credit card debt-collection practices in areas of declarations, collections litigation, debt sales and debt buying. Debt buying involves the sale of debt by creditors or other debt owners, often for pennies on the dollar, to buyers who then attempt to collect the debt at full value or sell it.
Among other reforms, the agreement requires new safeguards to help ensure debt information is accurate and inaccurate data is corrected, provides additional information to consumers who owe debts, and bars Chase’s debt buyers from reselling consumer debts to other purchasers.
Previously, initial buyers of Chase’s consumer credit card debt could resell the debt, the subsequent buyer could flip the debt to another buyer, and the process could repeat itself many times over. If initial information about the debt was incorrect or was transmitted with errors to a subsequent debt buyer, that could result in long-term harm to the consumer and leave the consumer with the difficult or even impossible burden of successfully challenging or correcting errors.
For collections litigation that was pending between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2014, Chase is also ceasing collection activity on judgments held by Chase and seeking to withdraw, dismiss or terminate any pending litigation matters and will request that credit reporting agencies not report these judgments against borrowers. Chase is required to send notice to affected borrowers that it is ceasing these collection efforts.

State takes action to stop travel firms accused of deceptive tactics

Florida's Attorney General has filed enforcement actions against allegedly deceptive travel companies.
Florida’s Attorney General has filed enforcement actions against allegedly deceptive travel companies.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam today announced coordinated actions taken to stop Florida travel companies accused of deceiving consumers.

Consumers complained that the defendants charged for items advertised as free; sold vacation packages that could not be used because of burdensome blackout dates and overly restrictive terms and conditions; refused to provide refunds or allow cancelation of purchases; greatly exaggerated savings; and made unauthorized charges to consumer credit cards.

“People plan and save for years to pay for a family vacation and it is disgraceful that anyone would use deceptive and unfair trade practices to take their money and ruin their plans,” Bondi said. “Thanks to this coordinated effort with Commissioner Putnam, we are taking action on behalf of travelers and to protect families from harmful business practices.”

“I thank Attorney General Bondi for her action against these travel companies, which allegedly defrauded consumers. By taking this swift action, my department and her office have helped protect Florida’s consumers from deceptive business practices,” Putnam said.

Bondi filed enforcement actions against the companies alleging violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and seeking consumer restitution, civil penalties and injunctive relief. In conjunction with the Attorney General’s litigation, Putnam initiated administrative actions seeking to revoke the licenses of two of the same companies.

The coordinated actions are taken against the following companies:

Millennium Travel and Promotions, Inc. allegedly sent millions of misleading mailers promising travel awards but failed to disclose terms and conditions or the total cost of redeeming the awards. Only a small fraction of these consumers were ever able to redeem the promised travel awards.

Grand Incentives, Inc. allegedly failed to fulfill travel requests by citing overly restrictive terms and conditions or blackout travel dates; collected deposits and failed to timely return the funds when the consumer was unable to book travel; misrepresented the nature of fees charged to consumers; and made unauthorized charges on consumer credit cards.

Bondi also filed a complaint against an additional travel company:

Global Connections, Inc. allegedly allowed its Florida distributors to use unscrupulous sales tactics to induce consumers to purchase its vacation club memberships by greatly exaggerating the true savings, nature and value of the memberships. Global allegedly did not honor its cancellation policy and did not make consumers aware of restrictive travel terms and conditions and limited availability of vacation destinations.

Global Connections, Inc. is currently exempt from registration by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Consumers who believe fraud has taken place can contact the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832). For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com.

 

 

 

U.S. average gas price slips to $1.99 a gallon, local deals available

The U.S. average has reached $2 a gallon.
The U.S. average has dipped below $2 a gallon.

U.S. average gas prices dropped below $2 per gallon this morning for the first time since March 25, 2009,  AAA said.

Today’s national average price of gas is $1.998 per gallon. AAA estimates that cheaper gas prices have saved Americans more than $115 billion on gasoline so far this year, which works out to more than $550 per licensed driver. More than 91 million Americans plan to take advantage of cheaper gas prices to drive 50 miles or more during the upcoming holiday period.

“Drivers across the country are celebrating the historic return of cheaper gas prices,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s President and CEO. “The lowest gas prices in nearly seven years are a holiday gift that few consumers could have imagined when gasoline was $4 a gallon.”

While Palm Beach County’s average is a hefty $2.19 a gallon, down from $2.21 a week ago, it’s possible to find stations at or below $2 a gallon.

Five stations in the suburban West Palm Beach area were selling gas at $1.94 a gallon Monday, according to GasBuddy.com. They are Texaco at Okeechobee Boulevard and Congress Avenue; Speedway at Okeechobee and Loxahatchee Drive, Valero at Okeechobee and Wabasso, Sam’s Club on 45th Street and Murphy USA on Military Trail north of Belvedere.

Florida’s average stands at $2.02, down from $2.03 a week ago.

More than two-thirds of U.S. stations already are selling gas under $2 per gallon, and drivers can find at least one station selling gas for less than that price in 47 states. The most common price nationwide is $1.899 per gallon. The national average price of gas is about 41 cents less than a year ago.

Gas prices have dropped because there is more than enough oil and gasoline supplies around the world to meet current demand. In addition, gas prices generally fall through early winter because people drive and use less fuel this time of year.

“We have witnessed a dramatic shift in gas prices that has saved families hundreds of dollars so far this year,” Doney said. “The best news of all is that there is room for prices to drop even more in the coming weeks.”

Gas prices already are much cheaper than $2 per gallon in most parts of the country.  The lowest one percent of U.S. stations are selling gas for an average of $1.59 per gallon, and more than 13,000 stations are selling gas for less than $1.75 per gallon. The states with the cheapest averages include: Missouri ($1.77), Oklahoma ($1.78), South Carolina ($1.78), Tennessee ($1.79) and Kansas ($1.79). Kansas City, Missouri has the cheapest metro average in the country at $1.68 per gallon. Average state and metro prices can be found on AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report website.

Sabal Trail pipeline’s adverse impacts will be mitigated, agency says

The Withlacoochee River is among those the pipeline could affect.
The Withlacoochee River, which originates in Central Florida’s Green Swamp,  is among those the pipeline could affect.

A $3.2 billion natural gas pipeline slated to supply Florida Power & Light’s South Florida plants would have some adverse environmental impacts, but those impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with proposed mitigation measures,  federal regulators said Friday.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s staff  released the final environmental impact statement for the Southeast Market Pipelines Project. If approved, the 685-mile pipeline will originate in Alabama and include the separate but connected  Hillabee Expansion, Sabal Trail and  Florida Southeast Connection projects. It will include six new compressor stations as well.

The project has been widely opposed by environmental groups and residents of the communities on the route. They have raised concerns that the pipeline will harm the Floridan Aquifer which supplies water to millions of people in Florida and Georgia, could damage wetlands, scenic rivers and wildlife habitat and poses a safety hazard to residents.

“The Sunshine State should not be relying on dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure.  No mitigation plan can truly account for the damage to a community if a hazardous incident occurs.  As of 2014 there were over 700 pipeline incidents that had been reported, and many more that have gone undocumented.  When will our agencies learn that our water, wetlands, and communities are not for sale to the highest bidder?”  said Johanna de Graffenreid, Coastal Campaign Organizer at Gulf Restoration Network, New Orleans.

Steven Caley, an Atlanta-based GreenLaw attorney representing Sierra Club and several River Keepers groups,  said of FERC, “They’ve never seen a pipeline they didn’t like.”

Caley questioned how the FERC staff can say the pipeline will be environmentally sound when it has not even seen the mitigation plans.

“They’ve had thousands of comments and have had several experts weigh in from the parties who have gone to the time and expense of giving them analysis on the effect the pipeline could have. They basically have ignored everything. They have not given any credence to anything anyone has said,” Caley said.

“But instead they have relied completely on everything Sabal Trail has given them. FERC has shown it is nothing but a lapdog. They get all their funding from the natural gas industry, so what do you expect?” Caley said.

Juno Beach-based FPL and parent company NextEra Energy officials have said they expect the pipeline to be in service by mid-2017. It will bring gas from a Central Florida hub to FPL’s Martin County plant, then to its plants in Rivera Beach and at Port Everglades.

A 480-mile portion of the pipeline, the Sabal Trail Transmission Project, is a joint venture of a subsidiary of Juno Beach-based FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy Inc., and Houston-based Spectra Energy.
The southern 126-mile leg is proposed by Florida Southeast Connection, another NextEra subsidiary.

The conclusions and recommendations in the EIS are those of FERC staff, with input from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps will also present its own recommendations and conclusions.

FERC said the main reasons for its conclusions are:

    • each Applicant would minimize impacts on the natural and human environments during construction and operation of its facilities by implementing the numerous measures described in their respective construction and restoration plans;
    • the majority of the proposed facilities would be collocated within or adjacent to existing rights-of-way;
    • all of the proposed facilities would be constructed and operated in compliance with federal standards, requirements, and thresholds including U.S. Department of Transportation materials requirements and Environmental Protection Agency air emissions standards;
    • a high level of public participation was achieved during the pre-filing and post application review processes and helped inform our analysis;
    • environmental justice populations would not be disproportionately affected by the SMP Project;
    • the horizontal directional drilling crossing method would be utilized for most major and sensitive waterbodies, the majority of other waterbodies would be crossed using dry crossing methods, and the Applicants would be required to obtain applicable permits and provide mitigation for unavoidable impacts on waterbodies and wetlands through coordination with the USACE and state regulatory agencies;
    • we would complete Endangered Species Act consultations with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service prior to allowing any construction to begin;
    • we would complete the process of complying with section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and implementing the regulations at 36 CFR 800 prior to allowing any construction to begin; and
  • environmental inspection and monitoring programs would ensure compliance with all construction and mitigation measures that become conditions of the FERC authorizations.

The FERC Commissioners will take into consideration staff’s recommendations when they make a decision on the Projects.

Here are links to the EIS documents:

LifeLock to pay $100 million to settle FTC contempt charges

The Federal Trade Commission has approved a settlement with LifeLock.
The Federal Trade Commission has approved a settlement with LifeLock.

LifeLock will pay $100 million to settle Federal Trade Commission contempt charges that it violated the terms of a 2010 federal court order that requires the company to secure consumers’ personal information and prohibits the company from deceptive advertising, the FTC said Thursday.

It’s the  largest monetary award ever obtained by the Commission in an order enforcement action.

“This settlement demonstrates the Commission’s commitment to enforcing the orders it has in place against companies, including orders requiring reasonable security for consumer data,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “The fact that consumers paid Lifelock for help in protecting their sensitive personal information makes the charges in this case particularly troubling.”

The FTC’s filing in the case alleged that LifeLock violated four components of the 2010 order. First, the FTC alleged that from at least October 2012 through March 2014, LifeLock failed to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program to protect users’ sensitive personal information including their social security, credit card and bank account numbers.

Second, the filing alleged that during this period LifeLock falsely advertised that it protected consumers’ sensitive data with the same high-level safeguards used by financial institutions. Third, the FTC alleged that, from January 2012 through December 2014, LifeLock falsely advertised  that it would send alerts “as soon as” it received any indication that a consumer may be a victim of identity theft. Finally, the FTC alleged that the company failed to abide by the order’s recordkeeping requirements.

Under the terms of the settlement, LifeLock must deposit $100 million into the registry of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Of that $100 million, $68 million may be used to redress fees paid to LifeLock by class action consumers who were allegedly injured by the same behavior alleged by the FTC. These funds, however, must be paid directly to and received by consumers, and may not be used for any administrative or legal costs associated with the class action.

Any money not received by consumers in the class action settlement or through settlements between LifeLock and state attorneys general will be provided to the FTC for use in further consumer redress.

In addition to the settlement’s monetary provisions, recordkeeping provisions similar to those in the 2010 order have been extended to 13 years from the date of the original order.

The Commission vote approving the stipulated final order was 3-1, with Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen voting no. The Commission issued a statement. Commissioner Ohlhausen issued a dissenting statement. The FTC filed the proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

Once approved by the courts, the settlement will help bring to a close outstanding litigation with both the FTC and representatives of a national class of consumers relating to past marketing representations and information security programs.

As a part of the settlement, LifeLock neither confirms nor denies the allegations of the parties.

The company made the following statement Thursday:

“The FTC’s approval is a key component of a comprehensive settlement designed to enable LifeLock to move forward with a singular focus on protecting our members from threats to their identity. Our members are our highest priority and we are gratified by their confidence in us, reflected in the performance and continued growth of our business.

“The allegations raised by the FTC are related to advertisements that we no longer run and policies that are no longer in place. The settlement does not require us to change any of our current products or practices. Furthermore, there is no evidence that LifeLock has ever had any of its customers’ data stolen, and the FTC did not allege otherwise.

 “As part of our commitment to continual improvement, in recent years we have made significant investments in our people, process and systems throughout the company to address ever more complex and pervasive identity threats. We are pleased to put this matter behind us and look forward to continuing to provide industry-leading identity protection services to our members.”