Peoria Journal Star

March 5, 2003

LaHood calls for gas inquiry
FTC urged to probe recent price spikes


WASHINGTON - Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, joined several other lawmakers Tuesday in calling for a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into the recent spikes in gasoline and natural gas prices.

In a letter to FTC Chairman Timothy Muris, LaHood said the commission needs to assure the public that the price increases are not the result of collusion or profiteering.

Currently, the price of the cheapest grade of gasoline is from $1.55 to $1.75 a gallon in central Illinois.

“I do not want to see a repeat of what happened in my congressional district in the days immediately following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when gas prices at a few stations rose to a prohibitive level due, in my opinion, to a few bad apples profiteering on public fears,” LaHood wrote.

After the terrorist attacks, Illinois’ attorney general sued the Casey’s General Stores chain, accusing some of the company’s stores of price gouging. The Iowa-based chain eventually agreed to a $30,000 fine and customer restitution.

In his letter, LaHood also cited recent news reports that have implied a possible manipulation of natural gas prices. Natural gas is the primary source of energy for residential heating in Illinois, he said, noting that any manipulation of prices could harm his constituents, especially the elderly.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also have asked the FTC to investigate gas prices.

FTC spokeswoman Cathy MacFarlane said: “We are actively monitoring the situation all across the country and in Illinois, and if and when we find an anomaly, we will work with the attorney general’s office.”

The cutback in oil production in Venezuela and uncertainties over potential war against Iraq have driven the cost of crude oil up 80 percent above what it was last year, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said last week that President Bush is concerned about the price increases and urged Congress to pass a national energy plan.

“There have been a confluence of factors involving both the cold weather and a shortage of supply that have led to an increase in the prices,” Fleischer said.

“To avoid a repeatable, predictable pattern of the cyclical nature, which hurts consumers, the president believes that is why Congress must pass a comprehensive plan to deal with energy, to increase conservation and to create more supply.”

He added, “These become predictable debates in Washington, as prices go up in the winter, and then they come down, and they go back up in the summer. The president thinks that people came to Washington to think long term, and to act long term, and to get ahead of the cycle.”