Guinn Joins In Questioning Soaring Gas Prices

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The governor of tourism-dependent Nevada joined Friday in a request by members of the state's congressional delegation for a Federal Trade Commission review of skyrocketing gasoline prices.

Gov. Kenny Guinn said he backed the request by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., for FTC monitoring of the petroleum products market in Nevada, California and Arizona.

The governor said the monitoring would provide the ability "to act swiftly in the event of illegal activity." He added that the current market for petroleum products is "structurally imperfect" and "highly susceptible to short-term manipulation."

"Given the infirmity of the market for refined products, the history of price spikes and the windfall profit potential, we are unwilling to accept unsubstantiated representations by the refiners that the market is operating fairly," Guinn said.

Industry representatives have insisted that high prices at the pumps are the result of several market forces - not manipulation.

High crude oil prices, strict schedules for refineries in California to change from winter to summer blends, routine maintenance, and cold weather all have contributed to higher costs, said John Felmy, chief economist with the American Petroleum Institute.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., met Thursday with FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris and said later that the FTC had launched an "informal investigation." An FTC official said the inquiry stopped short of an investigation, but the price spikes have caught the panel's attention.

In his earlier call for an FTC review, Reid termed the sharp increases in gasoline prices suspicious, and questioned whether oil companies were manipulating prices to maximize profits.

The statewide average for a gallon of self-serve regular unleaded in Nevada hit a record $2.07 this week, 35 cents higher than the current national average reported this month, AAA Nevada said.

The current price topped a previous record high in Nevada of $2.03 per gallon on March 18, 2003.

Motorists in the state paid an average of $1.79 in mid-February, and $1.67 in mid-January, according to the automobile club.