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WASHINGTON -- Democratic attorneys general in seven states on Thursday asked the Bush administration to join them in investigating whether big oil companies are illegally pushing up gasoline prices, reported Reuters.
The request from the states comes amid growing pressure from Democrats in Congress and presidential challenger John Kerry to take action to ease record-high retail gasoline prices.
In a letter to President Bush, the group of chief law enforcement officers asked him to direct U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft "to join with us in investigating whether the oil and gas industries are colluding to drive up the cost of gasoline."
The letter was signed by officials from California, New York, Connecticut, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Iowa and Arkansas.
The national retail price for gasoline averaged $2.02 a gallon this week, although pump costs in many states are much higher.
"All of our consumers are adversely affected by high gasoline prices," the officials said in their letter. "We intend to use the full measure of our antitrust and consumer fraud jurisdiction to investigate."
The officials also asked for the State Department's help in obtaining documents and information located overseas that are needed for the states' gasoline price investigations. Those documents and information primarily relate to foreign oil companies doing business in the United States and the foreign operations of U.S.-based firms.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said he had not seen the letter, but "price gouging and law breaking (at the gasoline pump) will not be tolerated" by the administration. The Federal Trade Commission and the Energy Department are monitoring the gasoline market and are "prepared to conduct inquiries where appropriate," he said.
But Duffy could not say if the president would at this time call for a formal federal investigation into whether there is any wrongdoing by oil companies.
Oil companies blame high prices on strong consumer demand, federal environmental regulations that require many gasoline blends, the difficulty in building new refineries and high crude oil prices that account for about half the cost to make gasoline.