As US gasoline prices hit a near-record $3.05 a gallon, Democrats in Congress are promoting legislation taking aim at Big Oil – although industry experts say that the efforts aren’t likely to have any effect at all.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, has said Congress should look into breaking up the giant companies. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., promoted her anti-price-gouging bill, which the Senate Commerce Committee adopted on Tuesday.
And Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., backed a windfall profits tax, pointing to $440 billion in profits over the past six years for the nation’s five biggest oil companies. “I think it’s time to say to these people, ‘Stop ripping off the American people,’ ” Sanders said.
Democrats have focused on two tactics on gasoline prices. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told the Energy and Commerce Committee to mark up a bill proposed by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., that would give the federal government more power to pursue accusations of price gouging.
The bill, which has 100 co-sponsors, would instruct the Federal Trade Commission to define gouging to stop “unconscionably excessive” pricing or instances of “gross disparity” between the prices of crude oil and gasoline. The measure stipulates tough penalties, including fines up to $150 million and up to 10 years in prison for executives found guilty of price-gouging. Stupak has scheduled a hearing for May 27.
But is this enough to really challenge the power of big oil?