House Passes Fuel Price Gouging Bill

fuel pump
Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg News

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Legislation that aims to expand federal provisions against price gouging in the marketplace for gasoline and other fuels passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 19.

By a 217 to 207 party-line vote, the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act advanced to the U.S. Senate where it appears unlikely to be approved ahead of Memorial Day, a holiday linked to the start of the busy summer driving season. Senate leaders have not scheduled a vote on the bill.

The bill’s sponsors, Democratic Reps. Kim Schrier of Washington and Katie Porter of California, pointed to corporate profits at a time when households are struggling to access and afford basic supplies.

“Oil companies are not struggling — they continue to announce record profits and tens of billions dollars’ worth of stock buybacks — but families are,” Porter, chairwoman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said. “Big Oil is price gouging families because they can. Enough is enough. I’m proud to help introduce this bill that will hold these corporations accountable, stop their abuse, and give families relief.”

The bill would specifically provide the Federal Trade Commission with authority to pursue potential price gouging in the event of a presidentially declared emergency. According to the legislation, it would be unlawful to sell wholesale or retail fuel that is deemed to be “exploiting the circumstances related to an energy emergency to increase prices unreasonably.” Under the legislation, domestic firms with more than $500 million annually in wholesale or retail sales of consumer fuels would be prioritized.

“Congress needs to be doing all it can to bring down costs for American families. What’s infuriating is that this is happening at the same time that gas and oil companies are making record profits and taking advantage of international crises to make a profit. This must stop,” Schrier said. “Gas and oil companies should be held accountable and should not be making the situation worse by gouging Americans at the pump. This bill needs to be passed and signed into law as soon as possible.”

Democratic leaders have endorsed the measure. “We need to have a bright light of transparency on how companies are making big profits at the expense — and this is in the energy sector — at the expense of the consumer,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said May 15.

Senate Republican leaders, meanwhile, blame current gas prices partly on policies adopted by President Joe Biden. Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, for instance, took issue with the White House’s foreign policy.

“Our experience buying Russian energy should have taught President Biden that buying energy from tyrants is a dangerous proposition,” Barrasso, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said. “Yet President Biden continues to reward our enemies by waiving sanctions while his administration does its best to kill American energy production. Funding despots isn’t in the national interest. Supporting American energy is.”

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Separately, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Commerce Committee chairwoman, sponsored legislation designed to enhance market transparency and direct the Federal Trade Commission to prevent fraud or manipulation linked to inflating prices at the pump.

“Americans are frustrated and bewildered by gasoline prices that keep going up even when oil prices drop and fossil fuel companies post obscene profits. Protecting American households and business requires forcing the same level of transparency in fuel markets that we successfully fought to secure in other energy markets,” Cantwell said. “This legislation will put a full-time policeman on the beat able to shine a bright light on the mysterious middle of gas markets and go after any bad actors that are exploiting consumers.”

According to auto club AAA, gasoline pump prices have risen above $4 a gallon in every state. The Energy Information Administration on May 16 reported the national average price of diesel stood at $5.613 a gallon.