As the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committees Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, I have been calling for hearings on gas price gouging for over eight months. For eight months, I have been asking for consideration of my legislation, the Federal Response to Energy Emergencies Act, which is designed to crack down on gas price gouging.
For eight months, Republicans in Congress have stonewalled. Up until today, Republicans have simply put forth shallow imitations of Democratic ideas and returned to their old standby: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
My legislation, the Federal Response to Energy Emergencies (FREE) Act, would instruct the Federal Trade Commission to develop a legal definition of gas price gouging. (Last week, the House of Representatives moved forward on gas-gouging legislation based on concepts found in Rep. Stupak‘s proposed act. -- ed.)
Most people are shocked to find out that there are no federal laws against gas price gouging. Therefore, the Federal Trade Commission has never brought a gas price gouging case to court.
Why is this? Because there is no definition of gas price gouging.
Well, even if the President and congressional Republicans dont know how to define gas price gouging, consumers know it when they see it. Gas costs 70 cents more per gallon right now than it did at this time last year. Profits for refineries went up 250% between September 2004 and September 2005.
During the first quarter of this year, the largest refinery, Valero, saw a 60% profit increase. Thats gouging, and, while it happens, congressional Republicans are turning a blind eye.
In contrast, 125 House Democrats have signed a discharge petition, demanding that my bill be brought to the floor. More are adding their names each day.
These Members are tired of the Republican stonewalling. They want action on a real gas price gouging bill with teeth, not a watered down imitation.
Just as we need to address gouging, Congress should also take a look at the way oil futures are bought and sold.
Seventy-five percent of the multi-billion dollar oil futures industry is completely unregulated, without transparency or oversight by the federal government or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
This is Enron all over again. Without federal oversight, there is no way to ensure these futures traders are not manipulating the market to drive up the price of oil.
I have introduced the PUMP Act, or the Prevent Unfair Manipulation of Prices Act.
This bill would require all futures traders to play by the same rules - ending the speculation, fear and greed that drive todays oil prices. It has been estimated that stopping this speculation could reduce the price of a barrel of oil by as much as $20, providing consumers with immediate relief.
These are the kind of ideas that we should be promoting to provide consumers immediate relief.
But, instead, Republicans retreat to the same refrain: drill in the Arctic National Wildlife and provide big tax breaks to big oil. You dont drill your way to energy independence. Tax breaks for the Presidents big oil friends dont result in lower gas prices.
It is time for a real energy policy that alleviates consumers pain at the pump today and begins to address this countrys long term energy challenges.
Hold oil companies accountable
By U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow
Oil companies continue to post record profits on the backs of Michigan families. High gas prices are killing our jobs in Michigan and take a huge bite out of family budgets. I have proposed action to hold oil companies accountable for their outrageous prices and provide immediate relief for consumers.
The numbers are staggering: Gas prices in Michigan currently average $2.89 a gallon, and are as high as $3.10 in some areas. And it‘s only going to get worse over the summer months.
The fact is, Michigan families are going to spend an extra $500 this year on gasoline. For a working family, that‘s a house payment, a month of groceries, or a semester of college textbooks.
High energy costs have a negative impact on Michigan‘s economy. Higher fuel costs lead to increased costs for our manufacturers, putting jobs at risk. According to General Motors executives, every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil adds $4 million to GM‘s logistics costs.
Gas prices have a negative affect on tourism and recreation, a driving force in Michigan‘s economy. Families are planning shorter trips, or canceling vacations altogether.
As we dig deeper into our pockets to keep up with gas prices, the oil companies are making record-breaking profits. Exxon/Mobil recently reported an annual profit of $36 billion, the largest profit ever recorded for any company in U.S. corporate history.
Meanwhile, Exxon CEO Lee Raymond draws a salary of $69.7 million. That breaks down to nearly $110,000 every day. He makes more in one day than most people in Michigan make in a year! And to add insult to injury, when Mr. Raymond announced his retirement, Exxon gave him a $400 million retirement package-one of the most generous in history.
This situation is outrageous, and we need to take immediate action, both to provide short-term relief, and to develop long-term solutions.
I have introduced the Oil Company Accountability Act to close current tax loopholes that give the oil companies $5 billion in new tax breaks. My bill would put that money right back into the pockets of consumers, through a one-time, immediate $500 tax rebate for families. If Congress acts fast and passes my legislation, Americans could receive these checks by Labor Day.
But short-term solutions aren‘t enough. We need to look down the road and reduce our nation‘s dependence on foreign oil. The best way to do this for Michigan and the country, is through the development of homegrown renewable fuels, such as soy-based biodiesel and ethanol, made with corn and sugar beet byproducts.
The biofuels industry can create good jobs in Michigan, bring fuel prices down, protect the environment, and help local farmers create new markets. Our state will have five ethanol plants up and running by the end of the year. And last September, Biodiesel Industries announced that it will be building a three million gallon-per-year biodiesel production facility near Detroit.
If we act boldly and quickly, we can buy our fuel from middle America instead of the Middle East.
In the meantime, let‘s hold the oil companies accountable and give some relief to people paying the bill.
$25 gas giveaway in TC:
Hoping to hold the line on tourism this summer, the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau is offering a $25 Speedway gas card to anyone who books a stay of four nights or more at any of 43 participating hotels, motels or resorts.
The “Pump Up Your Summer“ program‘s goal is to minimize any negative effect that higher gas prices might have on summer tourism, said Bureau President Brad Van Dommelen.
Its not just about us, said Van Dommelen. If this program brings more people to our community, thats wonderful. Its what we want. But I believe promotions like this can help people put into some perspective the portion of their vacation expense that actually goes to transportation. This additional cost shouldnt keep them from enjoying the great things Michigan has to offer.
For a visitor who makes a 500-mile round trip to Traverse City in a car that averages 20 miles per gallon, the card should reduce the impact of gas costs from $3 per gallon to $2 per gallon, said Van Dommelen.
The Bureau has installed a toll-free reservation line (1-800-714-0051) and a web page (www.pumpupyoursummer.com) to help popularize the plan.