Energy & Environment

House passes gasoline price-gouging bill

The House voted Thursday to pass Democrats’ bill aimed at combating “price gouging” on gasoline.

The bill passed 217-207, with no Republicans voting for it and four Democrats voting against it: Reps. Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Lizzie Fletcher (Texas), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) and Jared Golden (Maine).

The legislation is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate, where it would need the support of 10 Republicans to advance, but it’s part of a major messaging push by Democrats as they try to blame the oil industry for skyrocketing prices. 

Their claims of price gouging have been met with some skepticism from analysts, who have blamed market forces — rather than gouging — for high gasoline prices.

Still, Democrats point to record profits posted by major oil companies as evidence of an issue. 

“What’s infuriating is that this is happening at the same time that gas and oil companies are raking in record profits and then putting those dollars into stock buybacks,” bill sponsor Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) said in a floor speech on Thursday. 

The legislation, from Schrier and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), would outlaw the selling of fuel at an “excessive” price during an energy emergency, though it does not detail any particular price threshold.

The bill would also empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to pursue legal action if instances of price gouging are discovered.

Lawmakers also approved two additional amendments ahead of the final vote.

One, from Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and others, would require the FTC to investigate whether the price of gasoline is being manipulated by reducing refinery capacity or other means. 

The other, from Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), would create a new unit at the FTC tasked with monitoring fuel markets. 

Gas prices hit new highs this week, averaging about $4.59 on Thursday.

Market analysts have said repeatedly that the high prices are being primarily driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as pandemic recovery. 

Some said that the latest spike is related to factors including refiners shifting toward other, more profitable fuels.

The bill’s Democratic opponents argued that the legislation would be ineffective in addressing high prices.

“The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act would not fix high gasoline prices at the pump, and has the potential to exacerbate the supply shortage our country is facing, leading to even worse outcomes,” Fletcher said in a statement. 

“At best, this bill is a distraction that won’t actually address the problem. At worst, it could make the problem more severe,” said a statement from Murphy. She cited comments from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, in which he said the bill could “cause and contrive all kinds of shortages.”

Republicans argued that Democrats were seeking to shift blame for the gasoline prices. 

“First they blamed it on COVID, then they blamed it on Putin…and now they’re blaming it on mom and pop gas stations who are often just struggling to get by,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.). 

House Energy and Commerce Chairman, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) argued on Thursday that even if gouging isn’t behind the prices, there is no harm in voting to give the FTC the ability to pursue actual cases of wrongdoing. 

“Even if it weren’t the issue, or even if you don’t think it’s the issue, what is the harm of giving the FTC the authority to go after oil companies if they are price gouging?” he asked during a floor speech. 

— Mychael Schnell contributed.

Updated: 12:49 p.m.

Tags Chris Pappas Debbie Lesko Frank Pallone gas prices Jared Golden Kathleen Rice Katie Porter Kim Schrier Lizzie Fletcher Price gouging Stephanie Murphy Val Demings

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