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Is ‘illegal conduct’ the reason for rising gas prices? Biden urges regulators to find out

Is 'illegal conduct' the reason for rising gas prices? Biden urges regulators to find out


Is ‘illegal conduct’ the reason for rising gas prices? Biden urges regulators to find out

Why gas prices change all the time in the USGas prices and quality differ from city to city and state to state. Here’s everything you need to know about how gasoline in the U.S. works.Just the FAQs, USA TODAYWASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday called for federal regulators to investigate whether oil and gas companies are engaging in “illegal conduct” by profiting from high gas prices that have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Biden, facing increasing pressure politically as inflation has soared to a 31-year high, requested the probe in a letter to Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan, claiming “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies.””The bottom line is this: gasoline prices at the pump remain high, even though oil and gas companies’ costs are declining,” Biden said in the letter. “The Federal Trade Commission has authority to consider whether illegal conduct is costing families at the pump. I believe you should do so immediately.”More: Inflation surges to 31-year high. What the jump in consumer prices means for your pocketbook, Joe Biden’s troublesThe national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.41. That is  $1.29 more than a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association, and a seven-year high. Although the national average dropped a penny last week, gas prices in California broke a new record Tuesday with an average price tag of $4.687 for a gallon of regular.Gas prices have risen sharply during the pandemic amid a spike in the price of oil, which is refined into gasoline. The price of U.S. benchmark crude oil has nearly doubled over the last 12 months and was trading in the $79 per barrel range on Wednesday morning.But Biden noted the price of oil is down more than 5% over the recent high of $84 per barrel last month, while gas prices have gone up 3% over the same period. He said prices at the pump typically respond to changes in the prices of unrefined gasoline.”This unexplained large gap between the price of unfinished gasoline and the average price of the pump is well-above the pre-pandemic average,” Biden said, adding that the largest oil and gas companies are generating “significant profits off higher energy prices.”If the gap between pump prices and refined oil costs were at typical pre-pandemic levels, Americans would be paying 25 cents less per gallon of gas, according to the White House. Biden said the two largest oil and gas companies – ExxonMobil and Chevron – are on track to nearly double their net income over 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. He said both companies have announced plans to “engage in billions of dollars of stock buybacks and dividends this year or next.” More: Gas prices in California soar above $4.60 a gallon, hitting record high numbers”I do not accept hard-working Americans paying more for gas because of anti-competitive or otherwise potentially illegal conduct,” Biden said in the letter. “I therefore ask that the commission further examine what is happening with oil and gas markets, and that you bring all of the commission’s tools to bear if you uncover any wrongdoing.”Representatives of ExxonMobil and Chevron did not respond to requests for comment.But the industry’s lobbying association, the American Petroleum Institute, blasted Biden’s move. Frank Macchiarola, the group’s senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, called Biden’s push for a probe “a distraction” from the ongoing market shift. He said “ill-advised government decisions that are exacerbating this difficult situation.”Macchiarola said the higher gas prices are caused by increasing demand for gasoline outpacing supply as the economy rebounds from the pandemic. “Further impacting the imbalance,” he added, are moves from the Biden administration to restrict access to fossil fuels. “Rather than launching investigations on markets that are regulated and closely monitored on a daily basis or pleading with OPEC to increase supply,” he said, “we should be encouraging the safe and responsible development of American-made oil and natural gas.”Biden has seen his approval rating dip in recent months as inflation has increased, even as other facets of the economy, such as the stock market and jobs numbers, improve. It’s a major warning sign for Democrats ahead of next year’s midterm elections. The Federal Trade Commission has the power to enforce consumer-protection laws targeting “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” and to open investigations to obtain data on how companies set gas prices. The Biden administration has slowly ramped up pressure on the agency. In August, Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, asked the FTC to “monitor” for potential illegal conduct by oil and gas companies.More: Gasoline prices usually fall this time of year as vacation season ends. So why are they jumping?.Contributing: Nathan Bomey. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison 

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