Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards on Thursday called for a federal investigation into possible antitrust violations by the oil industry and criticized oil companies for raising gas prices.
"There's absolutely no justification for the gas companies to be as profitable as they are and have the taxpayers subsidizing the industry," Edwards said.
The former senator from North Carolina spoke to reporters during a brief campaign stop at a restaurant in Silicon Valley to outline an energy plan he said would help get America "off its oil addiction."
Wendy Li, the co-owner of a family run sheet metal manufacturing company in San Jose, joined Edwards during the appearance to tell him how soaring gas prices have put financial pressure on the business and her family.
"It's holding us hostage," said Li, an Edwards campaign volunteer. "And you can't just say 'drive less.'"
Edwards said his plan would seek to provide economic relief while increasing industry oversight and reducing America's petroleum-reliant habits. It proposes:
- An independent Justice Department investigation into the wave of mergers of oil companies, the cause of higher gas prices and possible remedies.
- Raising federal auto fuel economy requirements to 40 miles per gallon from the current 27.5 mpg by 2016.
- Expanding use of biofuels such as ethanol, including a requirement for oil companies to make available E-85 fuel (which has 85 percent ethanol) at a quarter of their stations. Edwards wants all new cars to be able to use E-85 by 2010.
- Mandatory restrictions on emissions of carbon dioxide with an aim to cut greenhouse gases by 80 percent by mid-century.
- Creating a $13 billion energy fund from the sale of greenhouse gas permits and ending some tax breaks for the oil industry. The money would be used to support biofuels and conservation technologies.
Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Sacramento-based Western States Petroleum Association, said the region's high gas prices reflect market rates, and an antitrust investigation would be a waste of time. He said the industry has been the subject of more than 20 state and federal investigations over the past two decades.
Rival Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, also have called for expanded ethanol use and other measures to reduce U.S. reliance on oil.
Associated Press Writer Rachel Konrad in San Francisco contributed to this story.