E Point Perfect

Opinion: It’s Past Time to Crack Down on Big Oil and Price-Gouging California Refineries


Union 76 fuel pump
A Union 76 gas pump in San Diego. Photo credit: Staff photo

Californians are sick and tired of high gas prices. For far too long, we’ve been paying painfully high prices at the pump while Big Oil companies like Chevron and Exxon are raking in record-breaking profits. Enough is enough. It’s time to crack down on the oil companies that have been taking advantage of us, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Up until last month, we were on a months-long streak of steadily declining gas prices. They were still way too high, but they were finally coming back down again. However, in recent weeks, even as crude prices have remained relatively stable, gas prices in California have risen significantly.

According to the California Energy Commission, the increased prices Californians are paying at the pump can be attributed to higher refinery costs and profits, which more than tripled from $0.64 to $2.18 per gallon over the past month.

During this period, at least six oil refineries in California simultaneously went offline or decreased production, contributing to these skyrocketing prices. While some refinery maintenance in the fall season is typical, the associated price increases are unprecedented. In 2019, when five refineries experienced maintenance issues and outages, prices only spiked by 34 cents.

Despite these significant price jumps and the increasing disparity between California prices and the rest of the nation, the industry has provided no clear explanation on why prices are rising so rapidly or how these refineries are making decisions about maintenance and outages.

That’s why I’m demanding the Federal Trade Commission start an investigation into potential non-competitive practices, anti-consumer behavior, and market manipulation by California oil refineries. Thirty of my California colleagues in the House of Representatives are joining me in this call because our constituents deserve answers. You deserve to hear from the oil companies and refineries exactly why they decided to go offline at the same time, and why we’re paying so much more than we have when refineries have gone offline in the past.

This is just the latest step in our work to get answers and actually bring prices down.

Earlier this year, the House passed my legislation to crack down on any oil and gas companies that are distorting or manipulating fuel markets. The bill would strengthen the FTC’s authority to address disinformation in oil and gas markets that is meant to inflate prices for consumers. It would also establish a new team at the FTC dedicated to defending consumers by monitoring fuel markets and facilitating transparency and competitiveness.

The new FTC unit would also report on manipulation or false information used to distort fuel markets and advise the FTC Commissioners on appropriate penalties for perpetrators. And finally, the bill would double the maximum penalty for manipulating wholesale oil markets to $2 million per day for each violation.

As California faces price spikes without any transparency or justification for such increases, it is more urgent than ever that the Senate pass this bill and send it to the President. However, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that Republicans in Washington are blocking that bill.

Republican politicians love to talk about high gas prices and use it as a political weapon, but they have proven they are not interested in actually doing anything to fix the problem. They like the politics of high prices more than they like the idea of providing some real relief for average Americans paying at the pump.

In fact, every single House Republican voted against that bill to shed some light on the Big Oil industry. I can’t imagine any reasonable explanation for why someone would oppose a bill to crack down market manipulation by oil companies, but the fossil fuel industry’s donations to Washington Republicans probably tell the story.

The facts are clear: while Republican politicians refuse to hold their friends in Big Oil accountable, I’m taking action with my House colleagues to provide some relief.

You deserve to know why you’re paying so much more at the gas pump while oil companies are making more money than ever. I’m fighting to get those answers and to get prices down as quickly as possible.

It’s time for the FTC, the Department of Justice, the Department of Energy, and the California Department of Justice to step up and investigate the oil refineries that are causing so much pain for drivers like you right now.

Mike Levin represents California’s 49th Congressional District, which encompasses north coastal San Diego and south Orange counties.


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