Senate Leader Calls for Probe of Gas Price Spikes; White House Cites Energy Price Concern

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) last week called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to begin a federal investigation into the causes for the recent spike in natural gas prices across the nation and particularly in his home state of South Dakota.

"Natural gas prices have reached an all-time high, with reports in South Dakota of rates doubling overnight. Some constituents tell me they are now paying more to heat their homes than to feed their families. Others are forced to cut back on necessities in order to pay their heating bills," Daschle wrote to DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham on Thursday. A copy of Daschle's letter was sent to FERC Chairman Pat Wood.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is one way to help the elderly and low-income families with the rising gas costs, he said, "but the program needs substantially more funding to be effective."

At the White House on Friday, spokesman Ari Fleischer reiterated President Bush's position that Congress should make comprehensive energy legislation a priority this session to put an end to the "repeatable, predictable pattern" of yo-yoing oil and natural gas prices and supplies that the nation is seeing this winter.

"The cost of energy...and the availability of energy remain very important issues for both the president and the Congress," he told reporters. "There [has] been a confluence of factors involving both the cold weather and a shortage of supply that [has] led to an increase in the prices, which concerns the president greatly. There is a cyclical nature to some of this."

Issues involving energy supplies, prices and conservation have become "predictable debates in Washington, as prices go up in the winter, and then they come down, and...go back up in the summer," Fleischer said. President Bush "thinks that people came to Washington to think long-term, and to act long-term, and to get ahead of [this energy] cycle."

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