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Minnesota News Roundup: Sen. Franken challenges Energy Department on gas prices

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Al Franken is blaming the recent spike in Minnesota gas prices in part on the Department of Energy's decision to stop publishing refinery maintenance reports two years ago.

The reports, authorized under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, were intended to help oil companies avoid shutting down multiple refineries in the same region of the country at the same time. The department stopped publishing the reports and collecting data from refineries in 2011, citing a reduction in funding, Franken said.

Franken, D-Minn., challenged Adam Sieminski, head of the Energy Information Administration, about the issue in a hearing Tuesday after Sieminski acknowledged that simultaneous refinery shutdowns were contributing to the price spikes.

"Gas prices in Minnesota have gone up in a startling way," Franken said. "And the spike is related to multiple refinery outages in the Midwest."

Minnesotans are paying $4.25 a gallon on average -- more than anyone else in the nation and 60 cents more per gallon than the national average.

Franken and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., sent a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday urging him to resume the reports and suggest other steps to help prevent future supply problems and price spikes.