House Leaders To Meet With Oil Reps on Soaring Gas Prices

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and a bipartisan delegation of Midwestern lawmakers will meet on Wednesday with oil company representatives to discuss the skyrocketing gas prices that have hit the Chicago and Milwaukee areas in recent weeks. The Speaker said this meeting is follows one held last week with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials about the problem.

In a statement, Hastert said, "While I look forward to hearing the oil companies' side of the story and getting to the bottom of why gas prices have spiked since the EPA's new regulations went into effect on June 1, the fact remains that inaction is not a solution."

Hastert called on the EPA to take action now.

"I am renewing my call on EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Administrator Carol Browner to use her authority to immediately grant a carbon monoxide (CO) credit for ethanol so we can cut gas prices by 15 cents a gallon and to immediately impose a temporary waiver, as requested by the governors of Illinois and Wisconsin, to delay the implementation of the June 1 regulations (by allowing Phase I or Phase II fuel to be used) to ease prices at the pump."

After repeated phone calls from, the EPA had no comment on Hastert's statement.

A congressional source told that quick action by the EPA administrator would enable Midwestern refiners to increase their blending stocks by 25 to 35 percent and reduce gas prices in Chicago by about 15 cents a gallon.

The EPA's statistical agency said the average price in the Midwest for the cleaner gasoline was $1.83 a gallon compared with $1.56 on the East Coast, $1.61 on the West Coast and $1.48 on the Gulf Coast.

Hastert and other Midwestern legislators met with Browner last week about the problem. After that meeting, Hastert and the legislators blamed EPA for failing to deliver on promises that it would give the Midwest region credit for burning cleaner ethanol-blended fuels before imposing the regulations on June 1.

However, Browner said after meeting with the legislators that she blamed oil refiners for the high gas prices. She also thinks granting Hastert's request would not solve the problem.

"Oil companies owe people an answer as to why prices are higher," Browner said.

However, the EPA did grant a temporary three-week waiver to St Louis earlier this month.

"Back in March, the explorer pipeline had broken. The explorer pipeline is what carries the reformulated gasoline to the St Louis area. They had a real shortage. They were just about at a crisis level. What they were granted was not really a waiver as it was more enforcement discretion because they had a need," according to Kathy Milbourne, spokesperson for the EPA.

Meanwhile, OPEC oil ministers are to meet with oil producers in Vienna on Wednesday, and one Republican congressman thinks it would be the perfect opportunity for Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson to take action.

Representative Gil Gutknecht (R-MN) said in a statement, "He (Richardson) must convince them to increase production. OPEC stated at its last meeting that it would increase production when the price of oil went above $28 per barrel. Yet today, crude oil costs over $32, and what has OPEC done? Nothing. It is time for Secretary Richardson to exert the substantial influence of the United States and force OPEC to keep its commitment."

Richardson, meanwhile, is to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the nuclear secrets case at the Los Alamos, New Mexico laboratory on Wednesday.