Butterfield wants law against gas price-gouging

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield believes that Congress must move forward quickly to enact legislation protects consumers from gasoline price gouging.

“As it stands today, there’s no federal law specifically protecting the public against price gouging at the gas pump,” Butterfield said. “As we’ve seen unfettered price increases, it’s clear that the public needs more protection.”

Butterfield explained that the only way that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can currently even attempt to prosecute unfair and unscrupulous pricing is through anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws. To date, the FTC has never brought a gas price gouging case to court.

“Under the current law, there’s little more that can be done except to study the issue,” Butterfield said. “Studies aren’t going to help people pay their bill at the gas pump.”

The rapid rising prices consumers are facing for fuel come at a time when the nation’s largest oil companies – Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron and ConocoPhillips – are expected to report more than $16 billion in profits during the first quarter of the year. Exxon Mobil earned $36 billion last year, the most ever by a U.S. company.

Last week, prices for regular grade gasoline averaged $2.94 a gallon nationwide, a 23-cent increase in two weeks and 68 cents higher than a year ago. Prices in many areas now exceed $3 a gallon.

Butterfield said that he has signed onto legislation that protects consumers from price gouging. The “Federal Response to Energy Emergencies” (FREE) Act, authored by Congressman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., would define price gouging, impose penalties and provide the FTC with the explicit authority to investigate price gouging.

Under the bill, which has 88 House co-sponsors, the FTC would have the power to investigate and prosecute predatory pricing for oil, natural gas, home heating oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, crude oil and propane. It would also include tough new penalties – up to $100 million for corporations, and fines of up to $1 million with jail sentences of up to 10 years for individuals. The bill also allows state attorneys general to investigate and enforce the law.

Butterfield also said that he is part of an effort to bring the issue forward for an immediate vote by the House. So far, 121 House members, including North Carolina Congressmen Mel Watt and Bob Etheridge, have signed onto the discharge petition. Discharge petitions require signatures from 218 House members to force a vote.