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Federal Trade Commission to probe gas station mergers as prices climb

The head of the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, told the White House in a letter released Monday that she plans to probe mergers of retail gasoline stations in order to avert potentially anti-competitive behavior that could drive up the cost of gas, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: The letter indicates Khan will act on a request White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese made earlier this month.

  • Deese had requested that the FTC examine trends in gasoline prices for potentially unlawful conduct.

Details: In the letter, Khan writes, "I am concerned that the Commission’s approach to merger review in recent years has enabled significant consolidation, particularly when it comes to retail fuel outlets."

  • Such consolidation, Khan states, may be raising the price of gas at the pump.

What they're saying: "I will ask that we identify additional legal theories to challenge retail fuel station mergers where dominant players are buying up family-run businesses," Khan told Deese. "I am especially interested in ways that large national chains may 'restore' higher prices through collusive practices, and I will direct our staff to investigate any signs of this type of conduct."

  • Khan also wrote that the FTC will "investigate abuses in the franchise market," through which national chains force franchises to sell gasoline at higher prices.

Between the lines: This is a move spurred on by the administration's concerns that the rising price of gasoline will curtail the economic recovery.

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