During the last few days, Bush asked his Energy and Justice departments to open inquiries into whether the price of gasoline has been illegally manipulated, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Bush planned to announce the action Tuesday during a speech in Washington.
It’s unclear what impact, if any, Bush’s investigation would have on prices that are near $3 a gallon. Asked whether Bush had any reason to suspect market manipulation, McClellan responded, "Well, gas prices are high right now, and that’s why you want to make sure there’s not."
Republicans who control Congress have become concerned that the high cost of filling up could become a problem for them in the November elections. Polls suggest that voters favor Democrats over Republicans on the issue, and Bush gets low marks for handling gasoline prices.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, urged Bush in a letter Monday to order a federal investigation into any gasoline price gouging or market speculation. McClellan said Bush had already done so, but had not revealed it publicly.
"We share a commitment with congressional leaders to make sure that we’re acting to ensure that there is no price gouging," McClellan said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada dispatched his own letter, calling for a multi-pronged approach to restrain gas prices. Among the steps were swift enactment of anti-price gouging legislation, an appeal to oil companies to refrain from further price increases, use of more alternative fuels and increased attention to existing fuel-saving laws and regulations.
Bush also planned to announce that his attorney general and Federal Trade Commission will send a letter to all 50 state attorneys general, who have primary authority over price gouging, to remind them to stay on top of the issue and offer federal help to do so. And he planned to call on energy companies to reinvest their profits into expanding refining capacity, developing new technologies and researching alternative energy sources, McClellan said.
"I think you’ll hear the president say very clearly that he will not tolerate price gouging," McClellan said.
Bush has said consistently that gas prices are high because global demand is rising faster than global supply and that the problem cannot be solved overnight. McClellan said Bush planned to talk about how experts predict the price will increase this summer and how the switch to a summer fuel mix is contributing to the problem.