March 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration is monitoring gasoline and diesel fuel prices in 360 U.S. cities to guard against fraud or price manipulation, according to a White House report released today.
The report, which also says the administration has made progress weaning the U.S. from foreign oil imports, outlined the extent of price monitoring that President Barack Obama previously announced. At a March 6 news conference Obama said he asked Attorney General Eric Holder to reconstitute a special task force to ensure the government is watching for “potential speculation in the oil markets.”
“Today’s high gas prices are a painful reminder that there’s much more work to do free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil and take control of our energy future,” Obama said in a statement released with the report.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates futures markets, has also cracked down on financial trades that evaded scrutiny in unregulated or overseas markets.
Rising gasoline prices have become a campaign issue as higher energy costs have overshadowed positive economic news indicating the recovery is gaining traction. Republican presidential candidates criticized Obama yesterday for environmental and permitting decisions affecting oil drilling that they say have exacerbated the spike in oil prices, and they vowed to reverse those decisions if elected.
“We’re already looking at $4 a gallon of gasoline in a lot of places and that has an impact in this economy,” Rick Santorum, who is trailing Mitt Romney in the Republican primary election campaign, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published today showed 65 percent of Americans surveyed disapprove of the way Obama is handling the situation on gasoline prices, with 26 percent expressing support.
On a broader question, his negative ratings on the economy are increasing, with 59 percent of Americans disapproving his handling of the economy, up six percentage points from the last poll, Feb. 4. Thirty-eight percent said they approve of the way he’s handling the economy.
The poll of 1,003 adults taken March 7-10 has an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points.
Regular gasoline at the pump averages $3.80 nationwide, up about 3 cents from a week ago, according to AAA data released today. Prices are up about 15 percent this year, generating angst among consumers in an election year and fueling the rhetoric of Obama’s campaign critics.
“This is pure politics,” Santorum said. “All of this is the president’s fault. It lays clearly on his table.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today repeated the administration’s position that there is little the president or Congress can do to lower crude oil prices on the global market.
He said “all options are on the table” when asked at a briefing whether the Strategic Petroleum Reserve might be tapped to increase oil supplies. Salazar declined to say whether the threat of higher gasoline prices affecting the economy would justify releasing some of the reserve oil.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, at the same briefing, said “we’re not going to talk about the SPR with any specificity.”
In the one-year progress report released today, called “The Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” six federal agencies conclude that the U.S. is on track to achieve an Obama goal of reducing oil imports by a third in a little over a decade.
This is due partly to increased U.S. oil and gas production, more efficient cars and trucks, and efficient refining operations. The U.S. imported 45 percent of its oil needs last year, down from 57 percent in 2008, according to the report.
Obama plans to speak about the report in interviews at the White House today with television stations from Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, Des Moines, Orlando, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh, according to a White House schedule.
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