Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota met with President Clinton and White House officials to explore possible responses to the recent spike in gas prices that is hitting consumers especially hard.

Daschle, who requested the meeting, said he is angered by the apparent oil company price gouging which is hurting motorists, farmers, ranchers, small businesses and truckers across the country. In South Dakota, the average price for a gallon of gas is a record $1.66 a gallon, or 60 cents above its level at this time last year. In communities like Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Pierre, the price per gallon has shot even higher.

"In the last couple of weeks, it had become apparent there may be some real, serious price gouging by the major oil companies--especially in the Midwest," Daschle said. "That is detrimental not only to families who drive more in the summer, but also to business owners, agriculture producers and truckers who all are dependent on gasoline to conduct their businesses. We have to take action and find a strategy to bring some price relief."

Federal officials met with refiners June 12 and said they heard "no good explanation" for soaring gas prices, especially in Midwest states. Daschle said he would back a coordinated federal investigation into the issue.

"The price hikes have a ripple effect throughout the economy, with some businesses being forced to raise prices to cope with their higher fuel costs," Daschle said. "If there is price gouging, we need to put an end to it."

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