Saturday, December 10, 2022

House approves bill to tackle gasoline ‘price hike’

WASHINGTON (AP) – A closely divided House approved legislation Thursday to crack down on alleged price hikes by oil companies and other energy producers as prices continue to rise at the pump.

A bill backed by House Democrats would empower President Joe Biden to declare an energy emergency that would make it illegal to raise the prices of gasoline and household energy fuels in an “excessive” or exploitative manner. The bill directs the Federal Trade Commission to penalize companies that engage in price fixing.

“At a time when people across the country are feeling the pinch at the gas pump, Congress needs to do everything possible to reduce costs for American families,” said Representative Kim Schreier, D-Wash. – are sponsored. bill.

She called it “annoying” that the rise in gas prices was happening “at the same time that gas and oil companies were making record profits and taking advantage of international crises to make profits. This must stop.”

The measure was approved, 217-207. Republicans unanimously opposed the bill along with four Democrats.

It now goes to the Senate, where a similar bill is pending, but faces huge odds in a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans.

According to AAA, the price increases are noticed as gas prices averaged $4.59 per gallon on Thursday — 49 cents a gallon compared to a month ago and $1.55 higher than a year ago.

ExxonMobil, Chevron and other major oil companies announced increased profits in the first quarter of the year totaling more than $40 billion, a fact Democrats cited repeatedly in floor debates. Many companies are spending billions on stock buybacks and dividend payments to investors.

Read more: Why climate activists and the oil industry are both unhappy with Biden’s new drilling leases

“Big Oil is the family raising value because they can,” said Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., another co-sponsor. “enough is enough.”

Republicans and industry groups slammed the bill, saying there was no evidence of a price hike. Oil is a global commodity and prices are determined on the global market.

Gas prices rose late last year amid supply chain problems and increased demand as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, but prices have risen ever since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine . The US has imposed sanctions on imports of Russian oil and other countries are exploring alternatives to Russian energy, raising prices.

Aware of the political stakes, Biden has vowed to do all he can to ease the “pain at the pump for American families,” including ordering the release of record amounts of oil from the country’s strategic reserves.

Republicans say the answer to higher gas prices is to increase production here in the United States.

Louisiana Representative Steve Scalis, the No. 2 House Republican, called the bill an “attempt to divert attention and blame from the administration’s self-inflicted energy and inflation crisis” by Democrats.

Scalise called the bill “a socialist pricing scheme that hurts small businesses and consumers the most.” He accused Democrats of “politicizing” the FTC, giving the commission “broad powers based on undefined parameters that would allow it to usurp market forces and set government-controlled gasoline prices.”

The American Exploration and Production Council, a lobbying group representing independent oil and gas producers, called the pricing allegations false and counter-productive.

Group CEO Anne Bradbury said the FTC has conducted several investigations that have shown changes in gasoline prices are based on market factors – not illegal behavior.

The vote on the House bill comes as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said she would release a long-delayed, five-year plan that would allow Interior to conduct new offshore oil and gas lease sales. The current plan expires on June 30, and administration officials did not say when or whether a replacement would be issued, even as they announced three offshore lease sales scheduled on the Gulf of Mexico and the Alaska coast. cancelled.

Haaland told the Senate Energy Committee that the new plan would be made public by June 30. The plan does not issue specific leases or authorize any drilling projects.

Read more: Should Big Oil Pay for Climate Damage? Some cities and states say yes

“As we take this next step, we will follow the science and the law, as we always do,” Haaland said Thursday, with a “robust and transparent review process that includes input from states, the public and tribes.”

The Biden administration has come under pressure to increase US crude production due to the pandemic and war fuel prices in Ukraine.

Biden also faces pressure from Democrats and environmental groups urging him to do more to combat climate change, even as his legislative proposals on climate and clean energy increasingly Stayed in a divided Congress.

Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs the energy panel and plays a major role on energy policy, said on Thursday that “even when we see that Russia is able to cope with energy insecurity in Europe, waging war, this administration’s opposition to domestic oil and gas production is crystal clear.”

Manchin said he supported a pause on the new oil and gas lease on federal lands and waters announced by Biden soon after he took office in January 2021. By last summer, he told Haaland, “the time for a pause had come and gone.”

Now, 16 months after the pause was announced, “we still don’t have any new leases,” Manchin said. “I regret to say that it has become clear that ‘pause’ is, in fact, a restriction.”

Interior responded to a court order selling an offshore lease last fall, but the sale was later vacated by a federal judge.

The administration has scheduled a sale of onshore leases in eight mostly western states next month. However, officials reduced the amount of land offered for drilling and increased the royalty rates charged to energy companies by 50 percent.

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