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High Oil Prices Become A US Election Issue

High oil prices have suddenly become an issue in this years' US presidential campaign with oil companies now under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). John Howard reports.

US Democrat VP, Al Gore, has accused oil companies of "price gouging" in the recent rise in petrol prices while his Republican opponent, George Bush Jr, said Gore deserved some of the blame.

Gore issued a strongly worded statement calling on federal authorities to investigate oil companies for making "enormous and unreasonable profits" on the backs of consumers.

"We know that, according to the latest available statistics, oil company profits have increased by as much as nearly 500% in the first part of this year," Gore said.

The political implications of high oil prices became especially relevant for Gore after a preliminary FTC report found that prices in the states of Wisconsin and Illinois were as much as 65 cents a US gallon higher than the rest of the country.

Both these states are crucial swing-states that Gore must win if he is to defeat Bush in the November 7 presidential elections.

Bush has been quick to take advantage of the oil price issue. At a news conference he said, " I want to remind people that this administration is devoid of an energy policy."

He said the Clinton administration had failed in its diplomacy to persuade oil producing nations to sufficiently raise output.

OPEC members met in Vienna yesterday and approved a modest 3 percent increase in production - a move that was expected to have little short-term impact on prices at the pump.

Bush has also attacked Gore's opposition to opening up a vast reserve in Alaska to oil exploration.

The oil companies deny they are price gouging and attribute the price increases in the Midwest states to pipeline problems as well as new environmental regulations for cleaner fuel.

But Democrat and Republican senators are asking how that excuse can be used in the US when those very same companies are hiking prices all over the world - that's price gouging on an international scale, they say.

The US Federal Trade Commission is now to carry-out a full-scale investigation.


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