Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission announced it would investigate possible post-Katrina gas price gouging.
Early evidence suggests there’s plenty of dirt to find. A new Government Accountability Office report shows that retail gas prices have risen faster than crude oil prices, and local Exxon dealers have complained anonymously that higher prices are being “decreed from the top.”
Unfortunately, the person charged with getting to the bottom of it all is FTC Chairwoman Deborah Majoras. Her old job? Representing Chevron-Texaco and “other major oil and gas interests” (though you won’t learn that fact in her official bio). To get an idea of Majoras’ priorities, check out this June 2004 release from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) shortly after her confirmation hearing:
At the hearing, Wyden asked Majoras again what she would change at the FTC to better respond to high gasoline prices … and whether she would request new powers for the FTC to fight oligopoly control of major gasoline markets by just a few oil companies. In every case, Majoras said she would be willing to act but would not outline specific steps, which is precisely the FTC response that has led to little or no pro-consumer action on gasoline prices in recent years.
Before a face-to-face meeting with Majoras last month, Wyden submitted a letter detailing his concerns about the FTC’s inaction on oil and gasoline issues and asking whether Majoras would lead the agency to respond. During their meeting, Wyden also received no assurances from Majoras that the agency would change its policy of inaction to protect consumers.