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Congress eyes gouging
Claims of unfair prices spark debate in Washington

Congress held a series of hearings in early September to examine the possibility of price gouging among the oil companies.

Though the meetings were scheduled before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, said Katrina further emphasized the need for action to be taken.

Domenici issued a stern warning to oil companies Sept. 6 saying the oil companies could easily find themselves before a congressional committee.

“Let me say to any oil company that is price gouging: They will see themselves in those witness chairs,” Domenici said.

And Domenici wasn’t the only one talking tough. House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton, R-TX, said Aug. 31 that something needed to be done.

“If there’s some way to keep prices from just going through the roof in an excessive, price-gouging frenzy,” he said. “Then I’m prepared to look at appropriate legislative and also enforcement actions if we have the proper enforcement tools.”

Some at the federal level, however, didn’t want the responsibility.

Federal Trade Commission Associate General Counsel John Seesel told the House Energy and Commerce Committee in early September the FTC does not have - nor does it want - the authority to investigate price-gouging allegations among individual retailers.

Seesel said that, while the FTC does investigate charges of collusion among oil companies and retailers, regulating the prices would be a step toward outright price controls by the government.

terry_scruton@landlinemag.com

Aug/Sept Digital Edition