On May 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) six months to define price gouging and enforce it for gasoline, crude oil, diesel, home heating oil, and biofuel sales. Due to increasing concern about high prices, bill H.R. 5253, known as the Federal Energy Price Protection Act of 2006, was fast-tracked in the House using a rare procedure that bars amendments and requires a two-thirds majority for passage.
“The government doesn’t set prices, but we do have a responsibility to prohibit price gouging and unfair manipulation of the markets,” said Rep. Heather Wilson, chief sponsor of the bill and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Opportunists should not be able to reap ill-gotten windfall profits on the backs of America’s families.”
The bill stipulates the consequences for price gouging, including civil penalties as much as three times any ill-gotten gains with a maximum of $3 million more a day for wholesale violators. Wholesale criminal violations could receive up to $150 million in fines and two years in prison, while retail violators could face up to $2 million in fines and two years in prison. The legislation’s provisions would apply at all times, not just during major disaster periods.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has created a Web site to field complaints on potential price gouging or price fixing. The site, http://gaswatch.energy.gov, collates the complaints and then transmits them to the FTC, U.S. Department of Justice, and individual State Attorneys General for investigation.
“While the majority of local merchants are fair and honest people, there may be some people looking to take advantage of consumers in this high-price environment,” said DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman. “By reporting suspicious activity, consumers can help us send a message that illegal activity won’t be tolerated, and bad actors will be held accountable.”