Republican Senators call for probe of California gas market

California's recent surges in the price of gasoline have prompted calls in Congress for hearings into the causes.

The top Republicans on two Senate committees, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, on Wednesday called on the Democratic leaders of their panels to hold a hearing as soon as next month when Congress returns for a post-election lame-duck session.

The senators want to examine, among other things, what role regulation has played in price increases.

"Every time there’s a price spike, there are cries of manipulation or something nefarious," said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Murkowski, top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "We ought to look at the policies we’ve put in place as lawmakers and decide whether they’ve been good for the price of gas."

Video: Why California gas prices are still so high

California’s Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, have called for federal investigations of the price increases.

Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that she wants to wait for the responses from the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department on her and Feinstein’s requests for investigations.

"Claims that Clean Air and public health protections are the issue are the same old tired attacks that we’ve heard from Big Oil and special interests time and time again," she said in a statement.

Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that he first heard about the Republican senators' request in a news release.

"That always makes it difficult to know if the request is serious, or just headline-hunting," he said.  But he said that he expects Bingaman to consider the request for a hearing when Congress returns.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California was $4.359, according to AAA, after reaching a record high of $4.671 on Oct. 9.  But it is still up from the average $3.853 from a year ago.

Bob Keefe, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "Hopefully Sens. Murkowski and Inhofe will finally realize in their investigation that as long as the oil industry has a monopoly on our transportation fuel sources, we will unfortunately remain subject to the profit-taking whims of oil companies, global price spikes and refinery outages."

Congress has held hearings before when high gas prices have become high-octane political issues, often calling oil company executives to Capitol Hill for grilling.



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