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Gas Prices May Fall By Late Spring

For those who depend on cars to earn a living, fuel prices have reached emergency levels. Capping off a year of increases, prices have climbed 11 cents higher in the past two weeks.

Truckers protested in Washington last week to pressure the Clinton administration to take action, and critics are accusing the president of being asleep at the wheel while gas prices rose.

On Sunday, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told CBS News' Face The Nation that what he calls the president's "quiet diplomacy" with oil producing nations is working.

Richardson says, "I'm confident that OPEC will increase production. The issue then becomes, how much of that increase will make a difference -- and our hope is that it will be a sizeable increase -- and how quickly that oil gets into the market."

Richardson said, "If that increase is sizable and in a timely fashion, that in late spring and early summer, you will see a gradual decrease in gasoline and diesel prices."

CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports there is no immediate help for delivery man Harminder Singh, who uses his own car -- and gas -- to deliver food.

Singh says, "Before, my tank used to be full within $10. Now I have to pay like $17 or $18 to fill up a tank."

Pizza delivery workers, who also buy their own gas, have seen a devastating $2 cut in their hourly pay.

Frank Meeks, who works for Domino's Pizza, says, "In order to keep my good people I'm going to have to pay them more; I'm going to have to pass along that price to the consumer."

Taxi customers are also being asked to make up the difference. In the nation's capital, there's a brand new fuel surcharge: 50-cents extra per trip.

The moment of truth will come next week, when the major oil producing nations meet in Austria to decide whether to reverse course and allow more oil on the market. Even under a best case scenario, relief at the pumps -- and in workers' paychecks -- won't come for months.

On Sunday, the energy secretary began a new round of diplomatic meetings with oil ministers from Nigeria, Indonesia, Algeria, and the United Arab Emirates.

Richardson says the Clinton administration hasn't ruled out tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the United States if an OPEC increase isn't big enough. Even so, new offshore drilling in Florida and California and drilling in Alaska will not be an option.

"These are ecologically and environmentally sensitive areas. We don't need to do that. There is enough domestic production that would be available in the United States," he said.

Richardson says oil-producing and oil-consuming countries agree that the price of crude must be stable.

"We don't want this volatility: $10 a barrel too low, $30 [a barrel] too high."

Also Sunday, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani once again blamed the Clinton administration for not acting fast enough and tough enough on risinoil prices.

"This is the mayor that, when I was at the U.N., wanted to get the U.N. out of New York," replied Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "This is the mayor who used to blame me for the diplomatic parking problems at the U.N., so I don't take his criticism very seriously."

Giuliani, a Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate from New York against First Lady Hillary Clinton, a Democrat.

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