Bowing to Public Pressure, House Conservatives Back Crackdown on Gas Price Gouging

Ninety percent of Americans, including members of Congress from both parties, say they believe price gouging is occurring at the pumps. (Recent studies suggest they’re right.) After months of ignoring legislation that would have protected consumers from illegal price hikes, conservatives bit the bullet today:

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed a bill that bars energy companies from price gouging but failed to pass a bill that would speed up the process to build new refineries for gasoline, biofuel and diesel.

The bill, which passed by a 389–34 vote, imposes criminal penalties up to $150 million and up to two years in jail for those found guilty of price gouging. The bill sets civil penalties at three times the “ill-gotten gains” plus up to $3 million per day of the violation.

The bill, modeled after legislation put forward by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), is an important first step. But even if it becomes law, cracking down on price gouging will still require aggressive action by the Bush administration, specifically the Federal Trade Commission. Unfortunately, the Bush-appointed chair of the FTC is Deborah Majoras. Her previous job experience: representing Chevron-Texaco and “other major oil and gas interests.”