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Senate panel questions gasoline price hikes

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A two-year Federal Trade Commission investigation into gasoline marketing practices on the West Coast will be completed next month and could shed light on questions of market manipulation, the FTC chairman told a Senate committee Wednesday.

Those questions were the main topic of the hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "There is substantial evidence that the juices of competition are being sucked out of West Coast gasoline markets," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. "It is no accident that Oregonians have lost more than 600 gas stations."

CNN's Wolf Blitzer reports on the U.S. Senate hearing investigating rising gasoline prices

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"Do we pay higher prices at the pump because of BP's practices?" Wyden asked FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky, referring to the oil company BP Amoco.

Pitofsky said he believes that is true. He said the FTC report due next month will examine accusations of anti-competitive behavior.

But there were questions at the hearing about whether the oil companies could be found guilty of anything illegal even if the accusations were true.

Thursday's hearing was Congress' first look at the recent spike in gasoline prices. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., held up a picture of a gas station's sign showing a price of $2.39 a gallon.

"This is an outrage," she said.

"Prices have increased 13 cents over the last month" in California, Boxer said. According to the American Automobile Association, she said, the average price for regular gasoline in San Francisco is $2.03.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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