By Paige Anderson
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on legislation that would prohibit “excessive” or “exploitive” fuel prices. The bill, H.R. 7688 “The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act,” would give the president authority to issue an energy emergency proclamation for 30 days over any U.S. jurisdiction, and it can be renewed in 30-day periods.
During the emergency, it would be illegal to sell consumer fuel at a price that is “unconscionably excessive” and “exploitive.” In addition, the bill would give the Federal Trade Commission power to issue penalties for price gouging. Consumer fuels are defined as gasoline, jet fuel, aviation gasoline, biofuel, home heating oil and liquid propane used for residential heating or energy generation.
In advance of the House vote, NACS, along with NATSO and SIGMA, sent a joint industry letter to each member of Congress voicing concerns that the bill singles out motor fuel for legal scrutiny, as most states already have laws prohibiting price gouging.
“We oppose gouging, which harms the American public, and the industry as a whole,” wrote the groups in the letter. “That said, actual gouging at retail is very rare. Gouging is simply not a characteristic or driving force of the retail market price we see today.”
The letter also emphasized that the bill creates duplicative laws between the federal government and the states without preempting state laws.
“The overlap of a federal law with the state laws can create confusion and unwarranted risk of legal investigations and expense,” reads the letter.
In addition to confusion between federal and state laws, the bill would create an unwarranted retail-focused enforcement by giving state attorney generals the ability to bring enforcement action exclusively on retail sales of motor fuels.
“This differential treatment and focus on retail sales is not consistent with the fact that the market changes leading to high prices today are not occurring at retail—and, in fact, retail margin is one of the smallest components of the price of motor fuel going back many years.”
The bill is expected to pass the House by a mostly partisan vote without Republican support.
Though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has stated his intention to bring price gouging legislation up in the Senate, the pathway for passage is more challenging as it is unlikely to have the necessary 60 votes needed to move any bill through the cloture process.
Paige Anderson is NACS director of government relations. She can be reached at email@example.com.