Cantwell, Snowe, Rockefeller push FTC on gas prices

By Ben Geman

Five senators are pressing the Federal Trade Commission to use its powers under a 2007 law to probe whether recent oil price spikes – and the attendant rise in pump prices – stem from market manipulation.

“We are writing to inquire whether the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is fully utilizing the regulatory authority granted to it by Congress to ensure American consumers are paying a fair price for gasoline. We urge you to use this authority aggressively to ensure that recent crude oil market price spikes and volatility are not the result of manipulative practices or anticompetitive behavior,” states a letter to the FTC from Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Rockefeller chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.

The letter Friday is the latest example of lawmakers – mostly Democrats – essentially laying energy price increases at the feet of Wall Street, and comes as GOP leaders pressing for wider offshore drilling.

It presses the FTC to use 2009 rules – which stem from a 2007 energy law – that give the regulators enhanced power to crack down on anti-competitive practices in wholesale petroleum markets.

The lawmakers’ letter asks the FTC for information about its efforts to enforce the 2009 rule; steps the commission is taking or plans to take in response to recent market volatility in petroleum markets; and an update on the FTC’s work with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and other agencies to “prevent fraud or deceit in the petroleum market.”

“Unlike when gas prices spiked suspiciously in the summer of 2008, the Federal Trade Commission now has the necessary tools to be the cop on the beat protecting consumers from artificial gas price hikes,” said Cantwell, a key author of the 2007 FTC law, in a statement.

Gasoline prices are averaging over $3.58 per gallon, compared to $2.80 at this time last year, according to AAA.

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