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Suit filed to stop rumored merger of compressed gas firms

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska's two main suppliers of compressed gases are being sued for conspiring to form a monopoly, even though neither supplier has announced they're merging.

Air Liquide America Corp. and Airgas Inc. sell gases to a wide range of businesses, including soda bottling plants, welders and dentists across the country.

When rumors began circulating last year that Air Liquide's Alaska assets were up for sale and its competitor was looking to buy them, some customers worried Airgas would become the sole supplier in the state.

Airgas has not confirmed whether it is buying Air Liquide's assets.

Two businesses and a consumer watchdog filed suit against Airgas and Air Liquide on Wednesday for allegedly plotting to form a monopoly.

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group, Weld Air Alaska of Wasilla and Greer Tank of Fairbanks filed the suit in state Superior Court. A hearing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. Friday, said Peter Gruenstein, the lead plaintiff lawyer.

They argue that if Alaska has only one supplier of compressed gases, that could lead to higher prices for businesses statewide and ultimately trickle down to consumers.

''There is no question that these companies are cutting a deal,'' Gruenstein said. ''All we're asking the court is for (Air Liquide) not to sell its Alaska assets to Airgas.''

Pennsylvania-based Airgas claims to be the largest distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases in the United States.

Air Liquide American is a subsidiary of France-based Air Liquide Group. It has been divesting some of its U.S. operations and plans to sell its Alaska business at some point, said Bob Cook, manager of Alaska operations.

Those suing said they would rather be too early than too late with their lawsuit.

''We want to try and nip this potential threat in the bud,'' said Steve Conn, head of AkPIRG.

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