The Biden administration is to propose legislation that would allow US federal and state agencies to “go after” oil companies on wholesale and retail sales practices, lambasting the industry over price gouging and profiteering.
As American voters express increasing concerns about the high prices of a wide range of consumer goods, including energy and food, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said passing legislation to bring down retail gasoline prices “is at the very top of our list”.
Neither Schumer nor House speaker Nancy Pelosi would say when such legislation will be voted upon, or how much money it could end up saving consumers if enacted into law.
“Big oil has profiteered and exploited the marketplace,” Pelosi told reporters, noting companies’ strong corporate profits over the past year. “They are hoarding the windfall while keeping prices high at the pump,” she added.
The move comes as gas prices have surged in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite recent falls, the average price of a gallon of gas is now over $4 in the US, up from $2.88 a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association.
Oil companies have enjoyed record profits as prices have soared. Exxon, the largest US oil company, is expected to report record earnings on Friday and rival Chevron recently reported “the best two quarters the company has ever seen”.
Pelosi said the White House had discussed a “holiday” for Federal gas taxes but said that there was no evidence that oil companies would pass those savings on to consumers.
Oil companies are not alone in reporting huge surges in profits even as consumers face higher bills thanks to soaring inflation. An analysis of 100 leading US companies found their net profits had risen by a median of 49%, and in one case by as much as 111,000%. The increases came even as prices rose and average wage increases were eroded by rising inflation.
Reuters contributed to this story