Thursday, April 21, 2011

High gasoline prices prompt Justice Department to eye energy industry

Regular gas is nearly $5 a gallon at a service station this week in Washington.Washington ; Prodded by growing public frustration over sharply rising gasoline prices, the Justice Department on Thursday announced the formation of the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group to ensure consumers are not victims of price gouging.
Attorney General Eric Holder made no secret the move is a direct response to public angst, not to current evidence of any illegal conduct.
"Rapidly rising gasoline prices are pinching the pockets of consumers across the country," Holder said in a written statement.
"We will be vigilant in monitoring the oil and gas markets for any wrongdoing so that consumers can be confident they are not paying higher prices as a result of illegal activity."
The working group will report to the existing Financial Fraud Task Force, which in turn reports to the attorney general.
The new working group will include representatives of the Justice Department, National Association of Attorneys General, Treasury and Energy departments and other financial regulatory agencies.
Holder said he is asking the group to explore "whether there is any evidence of manipulation of oil and gas prices, collusion, fraud, or misrepresentations at the retail or wholesale levels that would violate state or federal laws."
While promising official vigilance, the attorney general acknowledged regional differences in gasoline prices.
"It is also clear that there are lawful reasons for increases in gas prices, given supply and demand," he said.

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