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    Mass. Officials Challenge Gasoline Hikes

    Pump prices jumped 22 cents or more in a matter or two weeks, according to Congressman.

    BOSTON -- U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham last week calling for an investigation of the pre-Labor Day gasoline spike.

    The hike is the most recent installment in the rising gas price trend, Markey said recently. Prices have rocketed to $2 per gallon in some parts of the country and the national average, $1.75, is at an all-time high, the Medford (Mass.) Transcript reported.

    According to Markey's letter, stations in eastern Massachusetts jumped 22 cents or more in a matter or two weeks, and by 10 cents in one day. He called the increase ill-timed because many people drive long distances during the weekend holiday, and he asked Abraham to "hold accountable those who may be engaging in unjustifiable price gouging of American families."

    The congressman said he is still waiting to see results of his complaint. "Two days after Labor Day Spencer Abraham and President Bush were initiating an investigation of why prices had gone so high," Markey said. "At this point, there has been no conclusion to that study. But the price of gasoline has stayed at a historic high point."

    Independently-owned gas stations base their prices on the general market rate, but corporations dictate the rates to their subsidiaries. Carol Saleh, a Medford, Ma.-based Getty operator, said the company updates them regularly of any mandated fee increases or decreases. In the end, the station only collects about 6.5 cents per gallon. Saleh said the customers' aggravation have become obvious, especially immediately after the Labor Day spike.

    "They look at the prices as soon as they pull up," Saleh said. "They wouldn't even say 'Hi' They would just say, 'Oh, my God, the prices are going up. Why?'"

    Saleh's question remains unanswered, and prices remain 30 percent higher than they were last year. Entering the heating season, the cost of oil and gasoline also becomes a larger threat to residents' wallets. Markey is pushing for the Energy Department and the Department of Justice to invite the major gasoline vendors to the White House and warn them action will be taken if the trend isn't curbed.

    "At this point I am not optimistic," Markey said. "President Bush is an oil man, Vice President Cheney is an oil man. I doubt they have much interest in taking tough measures against the industry to make a fast and precipitous drop in oil prices."

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