As Prices at the Pump Reach Record Highs, House Moves to Arm Consumers in the Battle Against High Prices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Americans approach Memorial Day and the summer driving season, Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, voted to pass legislation to crack down on gas price gouging. The Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act, H.R. 1252, would give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to investigate and punish companies that artificially inflate the price of gas.
“Time and again, opponents of this measure have exhorted us not to interfere with the free market, not to let the federal government help consumers in the face of high gas prices. Even if gas hits $4 a gallon, it’s all just a matter of supply and demand, say opponents. Well it is a matter of supply and demand: consumers are being forced to supply whatever money the oil companies demand from them. The oil companies have the consumer over a barrel – a barrel of oil that the oil companies control and that they price. They tip the consumer upside down and they shake money out of the pockets of the consumers at the pump,” said Rep. Markey.

“The Christians had a better chance against the lions than the consumer has against the oil company at the pumps in the United States today. And all we’re saying is, let’s give the federal government a sword to get into the battle, to get into the arena, on behalf of the consumers in America.”

H.R. 1252 sets criminal penalties for price gouging, and permits states to bring lawsuits against wholesalers or retailers who engage in such practices. President Bush has already threatened to veto the bill.

“It is clear that high gas prices are hitting families hard, but they’re also causing our economy to stall and sputter like a jalopy. Today’s legislation to fight price gouging sends a signal to the oil companies that there will now be a regulator out there that has been empowered to take action when unconscionably high prices are being charged. We cannot stand by and leave consumers to the whim of the oil companies,” concluded Rep. Markey.

Gas prices have hit historic records this week, breaking the all-time record set during the oil crisis of 1981. According to AAA, gasoline hit an average of $3.20 nationally last week, beating out the highest recorded price during the OPEC crisis of the early 1980s, which would be $3.15 in today’s dollars. The Department of Energy is expected to issue its weekly report on gas prices later today, and news reports indicate that DOE is likely to report prices are continuing to go up and up. Meanwhile, the six largest oil companies announced $30 billion in profits for the first quarter of 2007, on top of the $125 billion in record profits they made in 2006.

May 23, 2007

CONTACT: Jessica Schafer