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Special Event

Senator DeWine and FTC Chairman Pitofsky Hold News Conference on Gas and Oil Prices

Aired June 22, 2000 - 11:35 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL TUCKER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the other story that we've been following closely for the last several weeks is the rising price of crude oil. Gasoline prices at the wholesale level now have dropped actually considerably over the past week in cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where drivers are filling up their tanks for more than $2 a gallon.

But according to OPIS Energy Group, the price that is passed on to you has yet to catch up with that drop. In many cases, they are in fact inching higher.

OPEC's decision yesterday to increase the daily supply by 708,000 barrels not expected to bring any relief until the end of summer, and that has sparked a formal Federal Trade Commission investigation into rising gas prices, especially in the Midwest.

Bob Beard joins us now from Washington with the latest on that story, where we are waiting for the FTC to give us its official word.

Good morning, Bob.

BOB BEARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi, Bill, we are -- the FTC chairman, Robert Pitofsky, has met with the Ohio delegation of Congress today up here on Capitol Hill. The price of gas at a Shell station in Chicago $2.23 a gallon today.

Let's go to Ohio Senator Mike DeWine now who met with the FTC chief.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: We just concluded a meeting with the Ohio congressional delegation and Chairman Pitofsky, who was very kind enough to meet with us this morning.

As chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, Senator Kohl and I, the ranking member of the committee, sent a letter to the chairman asking for an investigation. That investigation, as you know, is already underway. And one of the purposes of our meeting this morning was to get a status report of the investigation and to look exactly where that investigation is going.

Needless to say, the members of the congressional delegation behind me were able to express to the chairman directly this morning the anger and the frustration that Ohio motorists are feeling in regard to this very unexpected and unprecedented dramatic increase in the price of gasoline at the pump.

Before I turn it over to the chairman for a statement, I would also mention that Senator Herb Kohl, the ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, he and I today -- later today -- will be introducing a measure that would give -- would give the Justice Department as well as the FTC the authority to look into the whole issue of price-fixing by OPEC.

Most legal experts believe that there is a prohibition today in the law. What our bill would do would be to remove this prohibition and allow these two agencies of our government to at least begin to look into the issue of price-fixing by OPEC, which they currently cannot do.

Now it's my pleasure to introduce the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Robert Pitofsky.

Mr. Chairman, thanks for meeting with us.

ROBERT PITOFSKY, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION: Thank you. I was glad to be here. We had a very good meeting this morning with the Ohio delegation.

We're now moving into a formal phase of our investigation that's nonpublic and, therefore, there's a sharp limit on what I can discuss at this time. But I do have a short statement that I would like to read.

The high price differential between reformulated and non- reformulated gasoline in the Midwest region has raised significant questions for the Federal Trade Commission that can only be answered with a thorough investigation.

The committee is currently investigating this issue in an expedited manner and will soon issue subpoenas to gather information to aid this investigation. We will attempt to discern whether these inflated prices that consumers are seeing at the pump result from any violation of the federal antitrust laws.

There has been strong bipartisan interest in this matter from many members of Congress. I have held several briefings with delegations from states in the Midwest, including the briefing this morning on this issue, to provide legislators with an update on what it is we're doing and how our investigation is proceeding. And I have told these delegations that the FTC will issue a status report on this investigation by the end of the third week in July. That's a preliminary report, not necessarily the end of a complete investigation.

I expect by that time that the commission will have a better understanding of how and why these price increases have come about.

Thank you. DEWINE: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.

The chairman does have another meeting.

Mr. Chairman, we will excuse you at this point. And good luck on the investigation.

Let me turn it -- let me turn it over to Senator Voinovich at this point.

Senator Voinovich.

BEARD: So, once again, FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky meeting with the Ohio delegation on Capitol Hill today. The FTC chairman calling it "a very good meeting," saying now the FTC is moving into a formal phase of an investigation of the oil industry and the high price differential, as he put it, between reformulated gas and non- reformulated gas in the Midwest, raising significant questions for the Federal Trade Commission.

He did say that the FTC will issue a status report to Congress by the third week in July, a preliminary report that is not when the FTC investigation is expected to end. He did not give any indication about how many oil companies are being investigated by the FTC or which ones, but, again, a bit of a briefing today from the FTC about its investigation of oil, of the oil industry, and the spike in gas prices in the Midwest.

Now averaging at least at one gas station in Chicago today $2.23 a gallon for unleaded.

Back to you.

TUCKER: All right, thank you, Bob.

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