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Biden urges investigation into 'illegal activity' that may be causing spike in gas prices

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Wednesday his administration is taking steps to crack down on illegal activity that might be contributing to a rise in gas prices.

Biden announced that the National Economic Council has asked the Federal Trade Commission to use “every available tool” to monitor the U.S. gasoline market and look for any illegal activity that might be causing gas prices to jump while the cost of a barrel of oil is going down.

“That’s not what you’d expect in a competitive market,” Biden said from the White House. "I want to make sure that nothing stands in the way of oil price declines leading to lower prices for consumers."

The administration's actions come as gas prices have jumped more than energy prices over the past year. The price of gas has jumped 42%, while energy has risen 24%, according to the Labor Department. The average gas price in January was $2.326, almost a dollar less than what the average gas price was last month.

More: Gas prices aren't expected to dip below $3 per gallon during the summer travel season

According to AAA, the average price of gas as of Wednesday is $3.185. The national average is expected to remain above $3 for the rest of summer, AAA said last week.

Overall consumer prices have been rising over the past several months, which Biden and his administration has said is a temporary result due to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Consumer prices rose 4.3% in the 12 months ending in July, according to a Bureau of Labor Statics report published Wednesday.

"During this driving summer season, there have been divergences between oil prices and the cost of gasoline at the pump," Brian Deese, director of the White House Economic Council, said Wednesday in a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Kahn.

With its suite of tools to monitor gas prices, review merger-and-acquisition activity, conduct market studies and investigate market manipulation and anti-competitive prices, the commission is well positioned to evaluate the U.S. gasoline market and take any necessary steps, Deese said.

He urged the commission to work with other federal agencies and state attorneys general on its investigation.

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Earlier Wednesday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan urged oil-producing countries that make up OPEC to increase production, citing the need for reliable and stable global energy markets amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While oil-producing countries recently agreed to production increases, that won't fully offset production cuts imposed during the pandemic until well into 2022, Sullivan said.

"At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough," he said.

Higher gasoline costs, if left unchecked, risk harming the ongoing global recovery, Sullivan said. "Competitive energy markets will ensure reliable and stable energy supplies, and OPEC+ must do more to support the recovery," he said.

Michael Collins and Rebecca Morin cover the White House. Follow Collins on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS and Morin @RebeccaMorin_.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gas prices: Biden calls for probe into 'illegal activity'

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