U.S. House approves bill on price gouging, rejects refinery bill

| 5/5/2006

The U.S. House of Representatives approved one bill and rejected another on Wednesday, May 3. Both bills were aimed at dealing with rising fuel prices.

Rod Nofziger, director of government affairs for OOIDA, said House Republicans attempted to pass both bills under “suspension of rules,” a provision used to expedite less controversial bills.

The bill that was approved, HR 5253, is known as the Federal Energy Price Protection Act of 2006 and would impose strict penalties for price gouging. If approved as is by the Senate and signed by the president, the bill would be the first law at the federal level to deal with price gouging.

The House version of the price-gouging bill directs the Federal Trade Commission to create an official rule defining what constitutes price gouging, and then orders the FTC to begin enforcement of that rule.

In addition, the bill would give state attorneys the authority to file civil actions against possible price gougers. The bill would establish civil penalties for price gouging as high as $3 million for each day of an ongoing violation. Criminal punishment could be as high as $150 million in fines and two years in prison.

The second bill, HR5254, the Refinery Permit Process Schedule Act, failed to gain approval in the House. Under the suspension of rules provision, a bill requires a two-thirds majority vote to be approved. While the bill did receive a majority, it did not receive two-thirds and therefore was not approved.

The refinery bill is designed to help speed up the permit process to encourage the construction of new refineries. The bill called for the creation of a federal coordinator to oversee the coordination and approval of refinery authorizations.

The refinery bill could still get another chance. Congressional Quarterly reported that House Republicans are planning to return it to the floor under normal rules, most likely next week, when it is expected to be approved by a simple majority vote.

By Terry Scruton, senior writer