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May 4, 2022 2:36 PM, EDT

Congressional Leaders Eye Legislation Targeting Fuel Prices

FuelDaniel Acker/Bloomberg News

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With the traditional start of the busy summer driving season fast approaching, congressional leaders are taking aim at rising gasoline prices.

High fuel prices are among the domestic economic pressure points leaders in Congress and in the Biden White House are responding to ahead of the November midterms. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several Democrats are blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for current fuel prices.



House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated her caucus is finalizing legislation specific to corporate manipulation of oil markets, and is also weighing legislation designed to provide incentives for motorists. However, timing on the consideration of a legislative package has yet to be announced.

“Democrats are moving forward with forceful action that will stop and hold accountable oil and gas companies for profiteering and manipulating markets. This is a top priority for all of us,” Pelosi said recently. “We are confident that what we pass will be signed by the president — we think — and will be strong, tough and effective.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was tasked with crafting the House version of the measure, which would be finalized with input from his counterparts in the Senate. The chairman affirmed during a recent committee hearing the oil industry will be a target of the legislation. “The American people are understandably fed up with these prices, and we are here today to demand answers from Big Oil about when they will finally start providing the American people some relief.”

On the Senate side, Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said she intends to unveil legislation specific to petroleum markets. She also hosted hearings to examine current fuel prices.

Sen. Maria Cantwell

Cantwell

“I’d like to acknowledge up front that the world oil prices are at record levels,” she said. “There are a lot of compounding reasons for that: Russia’s despicable attack on Ukraine, a post-pandemic demand surge and an atrophied supply chain, and [the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] cartel’s refusal to help boost production.”

The White House has endorsed the legislative effort on the part of congressional leaders. For his part, President Joe Biden indicated the administration would allow gasoline with a 15% ethanol blend to be sold this summer. The president also approved the release of 1 million barrels of oil per day from the country’s strategic reserves, marking the largest release from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“We need to continue to take every step we can, whether that’s working with Congress, considering what authorities we have, continuing to ensure we take steps to make sure the supply meets the demand out there,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to criticize the Biden administration for the rising costs of commodities and consumer goods.

“For over a year, as inflation has skyrocketed from 1.4% to 8.5%, Biden, [Transportation Secretary Pete] Buttigieg and [Commerce Secretary Gina] Raimondo have been silent and missing,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a member of the Commerce Committee, said on May 3. “Instead of being accountable to hardworking families, they have blamed others. It’s shameful. Florida families see right through this administration’s weak indifference and are sick and tired of it. I won’t stop fighting to end Joe Biden’s failed agenda and reckless spending.”

According to Energy Information Administration data released May 2, the national average price of diesel reached a record $5.509 a gallon. Memorial Day is the typical kick off of the summer driving rush as people around the country set off on myriad road trips.

AAA, which monitors motorists’ travel data, indicated it is expecting high activity this summer. “We’ve seen a notable increase in our travel bookings in early spring, which is a strong indication of what to expect for summer,” Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA — The Auto Club Group, said in a statement. “Despite inflation and higher gas prices, people want to travel and we believe they will find ways to do so without breaking their budget.”

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