House Democrats will introduce legislation next week that would give the Federal Trade Commission broader leverage to crack down on allegations of price-gouging by energy companies.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday the House of Representatives will vote on a bill, HR 7688, introduced last week by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) as Democrats became. first legislative effort to curb gas prices, which have hit record highs in recent days.
“We happen to be doing this next week, which doesn’t preclude making other bills” aimed at reducing energy costs, Hoyer told reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad session.
The legislation would give the president the power to issue an energy emergency declaration, which would make it unlawful to sell gasoline or household fuel that is “unknowingly inflated” or exploitative in price.
It would give the FTC the power to enforce violations, giving priority to domestic companies that transact more than $500 million annually in wholesale or retail sales of consumable fuels. The bill would also give prosecutors general powers to bring cases of retail violators in federal courts.
Any fines collected would go into a fund that, according to the law, allocates dollars to the low-income home heating assistance program and weathering efforts.
“Congress must do everything it can to bring down the costs for American families. What’s annoying 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 turn a profit. This has to stop,” said Schrier, a member of the Energy and Trade Committee, echoing arguments made by Democratic leaders in both houses in recent weeks.
Democrats have introduced several bills aimed at manipulating energy prices in recent weeks (E&E daily, April 29). In a press briefing last week, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said Democrats want to “make sure there’s a police officer on duty” to “shine that.” bright light into these dark energy markets.”
Democratic leaders haven’t ruled out other options, including targeted gas tax breaks for consumers or requiring energy companies that own well leases on state land to lose their rights or face other penalties if they don’t continue production.
Hoyer said he supports “use it or lose” legislation for federal leaseholders. “That’s millions of acres [are] is currently available for drilling and for whatever reason the companies have decided not to pursue this further,” he said.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY.), chair of the E&C subcommittee on environment and climate change, said the FTC’s actions are the quickest way to crack down on companies charging unfair prices. He also said there is support in the Democratic Group for targeted gas rebates and he expects them to emerge later this year.
“It’s going to get a little tricky when it comes to administration,” Tonko said, explaining that Democrats are still working out exactly who would receive rebates and how they would be administered.
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the special committee on the climate crisis, welcomed the FTC legislation as a first step, but said it cannot be the only or a substitute for comprehensive climate legislation.
“There is so much we can do to reduce costs for consumers, to be continued,” she added.
While Democrats have the votes to get the legislation through the House, it’s unlikely to advance in the evenly divided Senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. Republicans have argued that the path to lower gas prices is to remove regulatory barriers to domestic drilling.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday high gas prices are a reflection of the failed policies President Joe Biden has pursued since taking office.
“Gas prices are now at their highest in American history… That’s about a full two dollars more since President Biden put his hand on the Bible,” McConnell said, a refrain likely to be heard by many Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.
But the story of the high prices is more complicated than Republicans are telling — it’s largely due to demand outstripping supply following the depths of the pandemic. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has further increased price volatility.