US Energy Secretary notes dip in gasoline prices

US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told Congress Tuesday 'hopefully, we�ve turned the corner' on high gasoline prices in the upper Midwest. He said pump prices have dropped 7-12�/gal in the past week, ending an 8-week rise.


US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told Congress Tuesday �hopefully, we�ve turned the corner� on high gasoline prices in the upper Midwest.

He said pump prices have dropped 7-12�/gal in the past week, ending an 8-week rise.

Richardson told the House International Relations Committee hearing that gasoline �prices are still unacceptably high.� He said there is an �unexplained price differential� of 30-40�/gal between standard and reformulated gasolines in the Chicago-Milwaukee area.

Richardson noted that the US Federal Trade Commission is investigating gasoline prices in the two cities and plans to issue a preliminary report during the third week of July.

He said DOE thinks the causes are higher demand, low supplies, problems making reformulated gasoline, and pipeline restrictions.

�The main question is why there is such a high price differential between regular gasoline and RFG. The refiners have some explaining to do.�

Political issue
Both Republicans and Democrats used the hearing�on the pricing policies of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries�to attack each other on domestic energy policy.

Rep. Ben Gilman (R-NY) said, �Continued high prices for gasoline and other fuels are now beginning to stunt our economic growth and curtail global growth, as well. In addition, they are stoking the flames of inflation, inducing bankers to raise rates and curtail lending.�

He charged the Clinton administration has been �remarkably passive.�

Gilman said, �This administration is still firing blanks when it should be making an all-out attack on the production allocation system which has kept oil at $30/bbl for much of the year.�

Gilman has filed a bill that would allow US citizens to sue OPEC nations under antitrust laws for manipulating world oil prices.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) attacked Republicans for failing to pass energy legislation, including reauthorization of the law permitting operation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Gejdenson said, �The oil companies keep running to us with new mergers, arguing for increased efficiency. But the only efficiency I see is that oil companies are now more efficient at ripping off the American people. The first quarter profits, before the most recent increases in gasoline prices, indicated that some of these companies are increasing earnings by as much as 500%.�

Other developments
Separately, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) has proposed that the federal government consider suspending the 18.4�/gal federal gasoline tax.

President Bill Clinton warned Monday that would have major consequences for US road construction. He said, �If the Congress wants to consider some sort of relief on the federal gas tax they would have to be willing to defer substantial highway projects. That's something they have to come to terms with."

Clinton observed that suspending the tax would provide little relief for motorists, as gasoline prices are up 56�/gal from this time last year.

On Tuesday, Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.) called for Richardson�s resignation. He said Richardson has �demonstrated a dangerous ineptitude to follow through on the steps Congress has outlined for the department, such as improving security at our national laboratories, developing a strong energy policy that ensures the US is not entirely dependent on foreign sources of energy, and ensuring that DOE take responsibility for its promise to create a nuclear waste storage facility.�

More in Government