The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Rep. Wolf: Answers needed about gas; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

President Bush needs to make better use of the “bully pulpit” of the presidency to deal with rising gas prices, according to one local congressman.

Citing the legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th, called on Bush to be more aggressive in his efforts to deal with the situation.

Wolf is seeking re-election this year. He is challenged by Democrat Judy Feder, the dean of Georgetown University’s public policy school, and Libertarian Wilbur N. Wood of Berryville.

“[Bush] should call to the Oval Office every chief executive of the major oil companies and let them explain to the American people why the average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline in the United States today is nearly $3, and in some areas at least a dime over that,” Wolf said, speaking on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Oil companies have said that simple economics — high demand and low supply — and a switch to ethanol as the anti-pollution additive of choice along with a lack of refining capacity are at the root of higher prices.

Oil prices have gone as high as $74 per barrel in recent weeks. Gas prices in Virginia were all over the place on Wednesday. In Nelson County, drivers reported paying as little as $2.59 for regular, while some in Arlington reported prices as high as $3.19.

Along the U.S. 17 corridor, prices ranged from $2.79 to $3.09 over a matter of 30 miles. In Front Royal, several stations were selling unleaded regular for $2.72 a gallon.

“My constituents, especially working people raising families and those on fixed incomes whose wallets are being pinched tighter and tighter, tell me they aren’t satisfied with those answers” from oil companies, Wolf said.

Wolf also called for greater transparency on the world’s oil markets.

“Currently, most energy exchanges occur on the New York Mercantile Exchange or on electronic exchanges such as the InterContinental Exchange,” Wolf said, adding that New York traders are subject to much more scrutiny than those on the InterContinental.

“After Hurricane Katrina hit, we saw prices jump. Many Americans certainly understood Katrina’s wrath, but there were questions raised then about the almost overnight jump of gasoline prices,” he said.

Congress ordered an investigation, the results of which are due May 22.

“Can markets really be manipulated?” Wolf asked. “Think back to the electricity market manipulation by Enron.” Federal regulators have laid some of California’s power problems at the failed energy trading firm’s feet, leading to more federal regulation.

“There is no similar process for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the unregulated energy markets,” he said. “Who is to say whether investment firms, commercial bankers or hedge funds could actually be driving up oil prices through futures trading?”

“We owe it to our constituents to find the answers, to bring everybody together,” he said.