WASHINGTON — Democratic leaders in Congress critical of soaring gasoline prices say they will push legislation to allow the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to go after oil companies that engage in price gouging in times of crisis.
“Big oil has profited in this (and) has exploited the market,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a Thursday press conference.
Pelosi said that the oil industry has made more than $200 billion in profits during the recent surge in gas prices. House members on an oversight panel recently grilled oil executives on rising gas prices, and how to reverse the increase.
“We call it the Putin price hike,” she said.
Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February, gas prices have quickly risen, and Democrats and President Joe Biden have tried to blame the war for the increase; Republicans dispute that, saying prices were going up prior to the Russian invasion.
At the oversight hearing, Democrats blamed the oil industry, Republicans blamed Biden and oil executives blamed global market forces.
Pelosi at the press conference also nixed the idea of a gas tax holiday, saying that while it was good public relations, there was no evidence that it would really help consumers and that the problem is getting the tax reduction passed on to purchasers.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that lowering gas prices was a top priority for Democrats.
“Higher gas prices is the place where Americans feel it the most,” Schumer said.
The national average for gas prices is $4.14, according to AAA, compared to last year’s national average, which was $2.88.
“Oil companies last year made record profits on these tragedies, almost like vultures,” Schumer said. “We have the Ukraine tragedy, we have the COVID tragedy. Do they try to make things better? No, they come in and make record profits.”
The legislation, which is being drafted, would allow the FTC and attorneys general to use civil penalty authorities against oil companies for gouging their customers, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said.
Pallone said the oil executives that testified before a panel on the House Energy and Commerce Committee argued that they had no control over the prices of gas because those were set by the retailers, which are typically independent.
“That’s simply garbage,” Pallone said. “Because the reality is they set the wholesale price and that’s what the retailers buy in order to sell gas at the pump.”
“What we’re saying today is that we’re tired of the corporate greed,” he said.