Gas prices at the pumps leaped to $3.29 last week in southern West Virginia, prompting Rep. Nick Rahall to join a bipartisan effort Wednesday aimed at cracking down on gouging and entities conspiring to limit the supply or fix prices.

Under HR2264, the Justice Department could take legal action against OPEC state-controlled entities that plot to limit supplies or fix the price of oil.

By limiting oil supplies, nations or organizations can artificially inflate the prices at the pumps, Rahall, D-W.Va., pointed out.

Another tool came in HR1252, the Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act, giving the Federal Trade Commission power to investigate and punish firms that artificially jack up prices.

Criminal penalties are prescribed for such practices as price gouging, and states are authorized to sue wholesalers or retailers.

“Families in West Virginia are suffering each time they go to the gas station,” Rahall said.

“I was proud to join Democrats and Republicans to support legislation that will help crack down on price gouging and fight against those who attempt to fix the price of oil and stick the American people with the bill,” Rahall said.

Nationally, the price averages $3.22, and it fell by four cents at mid-week in the Beckley area to $3.25 a gallon for regular.

Rahall said President Bush would err if he carries out a threatened veto of the legislation.

“As the summer driving season approaches, families can barely afford to drive to the local pool, much less go on vacation,” the 3rd District congressman said.

“President Bush is wrong to oppose these bills and I urge him to join our efforts to bring down the cost of gasoline.”

A year ago, families shelled out an average of $1,000 more for gas than in 2001, he said. For every 10 cents added, the collective fuel bill for America rises by $14 billion.

Rahall said the six largest oil firms acknowledged $30 billion in profits for the first quarter this year, on top of record 2006 profits of $125 billion.

“If our nation will simply take the long-term perspective and make the necessary investments in coal-to-liquids now, we can cushion the blow of future fuel cost spikes and valleys that inflict economic pain on working West Virginians,” he added.

Rahall plans to conduct a special coal liquefaction summit in August, likely in the Beckley area, meeting with the nation’s largest single consumer, the U.S. Air Force.

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