The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on “Gasoline Prices, Oil Company Profits and the American Consumer” on Tuesday, May 22. Afterwards, thanks to the efforts of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA), the committee released a new version of Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-MI) gas price gouging bill, H.R. 1252, to take to the House Floor today under a suspension of the rules.
According to the PMAA, the bill in question is intended to be more helpful than the previous. Triggering language is now included that would require a presidential energy emergency proclamation which could not exceed 30 days, but could be renewed consecutively as long as the president sees fit. The civil and criminal penalties are also lower in this version of the bill.
With this new bill, an attorney general could not charge a retailer with price gouging unless they:
1. “Grossly exceed” the average price the retailer offered 30 days prior to the proclamation;
2.”Grossly exceed” the price that was readily obtainable in the same area from competing sellers during the same period.
The bill states that when considering whether a retailer has gouged, the attorney general must consider if the price “reasonably” reflected additional costs not within the control of the retailer or if the costs reflected additional risks taken to distribute, obtain or sell the gas. The final factor that must be considered is if the cost was substantially attributable to local, regional, national or international market conditions.
According to the PMAA, this price control legislation will undermine the marketplace and will likely create shortages and long gas lines during emergencies, which the group plans to fight at conference. The Senate bill is expected to go to the Floor following the Memorial Day recess and the committee conference will take place later this year.