WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., welcomed Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham’s inquiry into recent increases in gasoline prices.
“I am pleased the Department of Energy has finally decided to launch an inquiry into recent spikes in gasoline prices,” said Lieberman. “This investigation should help us understand why virtually every state experienced a rapid increase in gasoline prices. While it’s clear that the Northeast blackout and the pipeline rupture in Arizona will have some effect in those markets, they can’t explain the increases in all of the markets, and they should not be, and must not be, opportunities for price gouging and profiteering.” Senator Lieberman sent a letter dated August 29 to Abraham requesting an investigation, and though it was reported that an Energy Department spokesman initially said lawmakers’ requests would likely be forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission, the Secretary announced September 3 that he would, in fact, conduct an inquiry comparing various supply and demand factors to historical data to determine if these factors explain the recent price increases. In his August 29 letter to Abraham, the Senator wrote, “It is imperative that this investigation determine both the underlying causes for these price increases, and whether or not industry participants are gouging consumers, especially those in regions that have been affected by pipeline problems and power blackouts.” A copy of Lieberman’s August 29 letter is below: August 29, 2003 The Honorable Spencer Abraham
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20585 Dear Mr. Secretary, Gasoline prices in the United States have just reached the highest level ever recorded by the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) retail price survey, after experiencing the largest weekly price increase ever. I am writing to request that you immediately initiate an investigation into the causes for this price spike and its impact on consumers. While it appears that gasoline supplies in some regions of the country may have been disrupted by physical events – a pipeline rupture in Arizona and the electricity blackout in the Northeast which affected refineries in the Ohio and Michigan – these are not the only affected regions. EIA reports that every region of the country, and virtually every state, has experienced a rapid increase in gasoline prices. In my own state of Connecticut, statewide prices jumped 10 cents in a single day. It is also troubling that this spike comes at the end of the summer driving season and mirrors a similar price increase that occurred at the end of last summer. It is imperative that this investigation determine both the underlying causes for these price increases, and whether or not industry participants are gouging consumers, especially those in regions that have been affected by pipeline problems and power blackouts. For example, EIA reports that one gas station in Arizona may have been charging as much as $3.89 a gallon for gasoline. While it’s clear that these sorts of disruptions will have some effect on the market, they should not be, and must not be, opportunities for price gouging and profiteering. I look forward to your prompt reply. Sincerely, Joseph I. Lieberman