Cantwell pushes plan to slash gas prices 'overnight'

By:  Theron Zahn, komonews.com
SEATTLE - With no relief in sight at the gas pump, one of our state's senators is going on the attack.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell says oil speculators are to blame for budget-busting prices - and she says it's time to rein them in.

As drivers wonder just how high gas prices can go, Cantwell and other lawmakers have been grilling oil company execs.

The quick answer seems to be speculation - investors looking for a quick profit.

"I think we found when these oil company executives testified before Congress last week that at least one of them said that supply and demand would mean that oil prices really should be about $60 or $70 a barrel," Cantwell says. "That would mean Washington drivers would be paying $2.50 a gallon instead of $4 a gallon."

Cantwell and 15 other U.S. senators say it's time for new rules over the oil markets to be enforced.

"There is a lot of money flowing into this that is purely from large institutions, and I think we need rules to make sure they aren't making the market or are doing things that are artificially driving up the price," she says.

President Obama opened another front on the war on high prices by offering new oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve.

The president's move comes just days after oil companies complained that government restrictions are stifling domestic oil production.

"There are shackles on us," said James Mulva, chairman and CEO of Conoco-Phillips. "Put us back to work - open up, give us access to the lands, let us start drilling, put our people back to work."

Cantwell says reigning speculators would be a much quicker fix.

"Overnight," she says. "We saw with electricity, we saw with Enron, how prices got 3,000 times the rate they should be - and once those federal regulators acted, the price dropped overnight."