Typically, such price extremes have prompted a flurry of demands from lawmakers to look behind the headlines. This season is no exception. Just this week, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D) and Barbara Boxer (D) of California and Rep. Janice Hahn (D) of California called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate possible price manipulation and deceptive practices.
"Californians are, unfortunately, no strangers to manipulated energy prices," wrote Congresswoman Hahn in a letter to the FTC. "Californians deserve to know whether the record-breaking gas prices they are being made to suffer at the pump are due to market forces or greed."
In fact, the California Energy Commission often sees requests like this when price spikes happen, says spokesman Rob Schlichting. While the 2001 scandal over manipulation of the energy market by Enron was a dramatic confirmation that such deceptive strategies have occurred, “most of these investigations come up empty,” he says.
The FTC has yet to publicly comment on the request.
While the claim that gas price hikes are produced by manipulation or deceptive practices is appealing to politicians and the gas-buying public, there are other factors that could account for high gas prices, say analysts close to the industry.