WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned oil and gas companies against increasing prices for consumers as Hurricane Ian lashed Florida's southwest coast.
"Do not, let me repeat, do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people," Biden said at the start of a conference on hunger in America and just hours before the hurricane made landfall as a massive Category 4 storm.
Biden said the hurricane "provides no excuse for price increases at the pump" and if it happens, he will ask federal officials to determine "whether price gouging is going on."
"America is watching. The industry should do the right thing," Biden added.
There are few signs that average gas prices have jumped significantly in Florida as the hurricane began to approach. AAA put the statewide average at just under $3.40 a gallon, six-tenths of a cent higher than a week ago.
A 99-day run of falling pump prices nationally ended recently, and the 14-week decline was the longest streak since 2015. The nationwide average price had risen past $5 a gallon - and $6 in California - in June as the economic recovery and an increase in travel boosted demand for gasoline and Russia's war in Ukraine caused a spike in oil prices.
Gasoline prices mostly reflect trends in global oil prices, and crude - both the U.S. benchmark and the international Brent - has been slumping since mid-June on growing fears of a global recession that would reduce demand for energy.
Many energy analysts think prices are more likely to rise than fall in the next few months. But changes in sentiment about the economy, Russia's war against Ukraine and even hurricane season - always a threat to disrupt refineries along the Gulf Coast - make predictions uncertain.
A spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry group, said the industry is focused on "delivering fuels where they are needed most while ensuring the safety of our workforce'' during the hurricane.
"Gasoline prices are determined by market forces - not individual companies - and claims that the price at the pump is anything but a function of supply and demand are false," spokeswoman Andrea Woods said.
The hurricane was lashing the state with heavy rain and pushing a devastating storm surge after strengthening to the threshold of the most dangerous Category 5 status. Ian grew to a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane overnight with top winds of 155 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Before making its way through the Gulf of Mexico to Florida, Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba on Tuesday, killing two people and bringing down the country's electrical grid.
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