Senate Democrats call for energy price investigations

Democratic congressional leaders Thursday called for a special House-Senate investigative committee to look into high energy prices to determine if oil companies are gouging consumers. They also want the White House to help create a national consumer energy commission to study recent energy price spikes.


By Maureen Lorenzetti
OGJ Online

WASHINGTON, DC, May 10 -- Democratic congressional leaders Thursday called for a special House-Senate investigative committee to look into high energy prices to determine if oil companies are gouging consumers.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and seven colleagues said the new committee is needed because existing panels do not have the resources available to conduct a full investigation. The new bipartisan committee, if created, would have full subpoena power.

Other senators supporting the committee proposal include Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

"We are not willing to accept without investigation the president's assertion that we are powerless to help the American people right now," Daschle told a Capitol Hill news conference. "His administration says quick fixes don't work. But that's not what Gov. Bush said when Big Oil was hurting. Two years ago, when oil prices were low, then Gov. Bush took steps to provide immediate relief for Texas oil producers. When Big Oil is hurting, they pull out all the stops. But when average families are hurting, they say there's nothing the government can do."

At the same news conference, Democrats said they also want to create a national consumer energy commission to study recent energy price spikes from a consumer perspective and provide recommendations for legislation action.

Daschle said he plans to enlist support from Republicans in the coming weeks for his plan.

The proposals come on the heels of a May 9 letter from Daschle's counterpart in the House, Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), to the White House. The House minority leader complained that he and his colleagues have not been consulted enough on the new energy policy proposals expected from the vice-president next week.

Gephardt said that Democrats want "the same input given to industry groups and Republicans."

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats said they will be sending their own letter to President Bush outlining steps the administration can take to help alleviate prices.

The Democrats' point person on energy issues, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), plans to offer the following suggestions to the White House:

-- Streamline national standards for gasoline in order to ease production and distribution problems.

-- Ensure refinery production is not curtailed during rolling blackouts.

-- Require that all vehicles in the federal fleet that can use alternative fuels do use them.

-- Insist all segments of the gasoline supply chain maximize production and distribution of fuels of the needed quality; and

-- Ensure the US Energy Information Administration has adequate resources to provide timely data on energy markets.

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at Maureenl@ogjonline.com

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