Obama monitors for gasoline, diesel fraud in 360 US cities

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration is monitoring gasoline and diesel fuel prices in 360 U.S. cities to guard against fraud or price manipulation, according to a White House report released today.

President Barack Obama said at a press conference March 6 that he asked Attorney General Eric Holder to reconstitute a special task force to ensure the government is watching for “potential speculation in the oil markets.” The extent of the gasoline and diesel price monitoring is in today’s report, which also says the administration has made progress weaning the U.S. from foreign oil imports.

“Today’s high gas prices are a painful reminder that there’s much more work to do free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil and take control of our energy future,” Obama said in a statement released with the report.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates futures markets, has also taken steps to close loopholes that allowed financial trades to evade scrutiny by trading in unregulated or overseas markets, according to the report.

Republican presidential candidates criticized Obama yesterday for environmental and permitting decisions affecting oil drilling that they say have exacerbated the spike in oil prices, and they vowed to reverse those decisions if elected.

“We’re already looking at $4 a gallon of gasoline in a lot of places and that has an impact in this economy,” Rick Santorum, who is trailing Mitt Romney in the Republican primary election campaign, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Approval Rating

A Washington Post-ABC News poll published today showed 65% of Americans surveyed disapprove of the way Obama is handling the situation on gasoline prices, with 26% expressing support.

On a broader question, his negative ratings on the economy are increasing, with 59% of Americans disapproving his handling of the economy, up six percentage points from the last poll, Feb. 4. Thirty-eight percent said they approve of the way he’s handling the economy.

The poll of 1,003 adults taken March 7-10 has an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points.

Pump Prices

Regular gasoline at the pump averages $3.801 nationwide, up about 3 cents from a week ago, according to AAA data released today Prices are up about 15% this year, generating angst among consumers in an election year and fueling the rhetoric of Obama’s campaign critics.

“This is pure politics. All of this is the president’s fault. It lays clearly on his table,” Santorum said.

Obama is scheduled to receive the one-year progress report today called “The Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” in which six federal agencies conclude that the U.S. is on track to achieve an Obama goal of reducing oil imports by a third in a little over a decade.

This is due partly to increased U.S. oil and gas production, more efficient cars and trucks, and efficient refining operations. The U.S. imported 45% of its oil needs last year, down from 57% in 2008, according to th report.

Obama plans to speak about the report in interviews at the White House today with television stations from Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, Des Moines, Orlando, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh, according to a White House schedule.

Bloomberg News

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