House GOP Leader Wants Congressional Hearings On Rising Energy Prices

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) is calling for congressional hearings on rapidly rising energy prices.

Watts said now is the time to investigate, as summer travel drives up demand - and prices -- for gasoline and as air conditioners strain power supply in some parts of the country.

"As a free market conservative, I take a back seat to no one in the promotion of capitalist initiatives and reducing excessive regulations," Watts said. "At the same time, I believe there is a need to get answers from energy companies with respect to the price of gas, electricity, mergers of companies and the supply of oil and gas in the United States," Watts said in a statement released Monday.

Watts also said he has notified the chairmen of the House Resources Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee of his request for such hearings.

"Hearings in the House on mergers, pricing and supply will shed light on the impact this has on consumers. The volatility of energy prices can wreak havoc on our economy. We must get answers straight from the source if we are to avoid a long term energy crisis nationwide," Watts said.

The House returns to work Tuesday after a Memorial Day recess.

On Sunday, Billy Tauzin (R-La.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the entire United States was likely to face rolling blackouts like those already plaguing California unless swift action is taken to build new power plants and increase natural gas production.

"This country is very close (to), if not beginning to be in, an energy crisis," Tauzin told the annual meeting in New Orleans of the Edison Electric Institute, an association of investor-owned electric utilities.

Tauzin said the nation's high-tech economy could come to a ''crunching stop'' without an expansion of energy infrastructure, and he argued that government-imposed price caps would not provide a solution to high electricity prices.

"This new economy is a gas-guzzling economy," Tauzin said, citing an Energy Information Agency study that forecasts the United States will need 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants in the next 20 years to keep up with a projected 45 percent increase in electricity demand.

Tauzin said energy conservation could be part of the overall solution but that top priority should be given to building new power plants and oil refineries. He also called for improvements in the transmission grid that carries power between states.

"We need to make sure that the new 21st century power system in our country has an interstate transmission system that works," he said, adding the government might have to exercise its power of eminent domain to achieve that goal.

Clean coal technologies and domestic natural gas were also vital energy resources, Tauzin said, calling for new areas to be opened for oil and gas drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.