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    Congress Seeks Answers to Gas Prices

    Subcommittee asks for refineries' help in understanding the disparity in price and an end to restrictions that prevent biofuels from being offered at gas stations.

    SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The House Domestic Subcommittee recently sent a letter to seven major refiners requesting information on how they plan to remedy the price disparity among gas in certain areas of the nation.

    Currently the highest price for a gallon of regular gasoline can be found in California, where it averages $3.28. The next highest state is Washington at $3.04, and Hawaii at $3.02 per gallon, according to AAA. California's average price for gasoline is almost 50 cents higher than the national average of $2.80, according to AAA.

    The letter was signed by the chairman of the subcommittee, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich.

    "As we approach this year's peak driving season, my subcommittee endeavors to know how the actions of the major oil companies play a role in raising the price of gasoline," Kucinich said in a written statement. "We seek to learn how the realities of decreasing refinery capacity, decreasing gasoline inventories, rising oil company profitability and increasing market concentration in the oil industry may be the root cause of new record-high gasoline prices."

    The letter states that refiners, especially those on the West Coast, have seen margins jump, and are currently making profits of up to $39 per barrel, from the $17 average seen over the past five years.

    "The subcommittee wishes to know how these factors of decreasing capacity, decreasing supply, rising profitability and increasing market concentration may be related to cause new record highs in the price of gasoline," the letter stated.

    To that end, the letter asks major refiners -- including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Tesoro, Valero ConocoPhillips and Shell -- a number of questions on their plans:

    -- "What is your strategic plan to raise the supply of gasoline for the onset of the peak driving season, which is only weeks away?

    -- "What steps are you planning to take, and when do you plan to take them, to bring back online refining capacity that you have removed from production? When do you plan to have attained maximum refining capacity?

    -- "What steps are you planning to take, and when do you plan to take them, to find supply other than your own production to bring your inventory to the national average of up to a 30-day supply? and

    -- "What are you projecting your refinery margins to be during peak driving season?"

    The letter also asks oil companies on their restrictions on retail dealers that make E85 and other renewable fuels economically infeasible to sell.

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