A bill in the California Legislature that was intended to prevent price
gouging by big oil companies – not just fuel stations – has died.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez offered
the measure in response to prices at the fuel pump that have jumped by more
than $1 per gallon since the first of this year.
In the final hours of the legislative session that ended late last month,
Nunez, D-Los Angeles, canceled a final Assembly vote on the bill – AB457 – that
had undergone changes in the Senate. Lockyer’s staff said Nunez had concluded
he didn’t have enough votes to pass the bill.
California law already authorizes the attorney general
to investigate allegations of price gouging at the retail level in the state
during emergencies declared by the governor or president. Retailers are
prohibited from boosting prices for goods and services, such as food, medicine
and fuel, more than 10 percent during a 30-day period after a declared
The bill would have given the attorney general 30 days after an
emergency to initiate an investigation into alleged price gouging. The entire
fuel supply chain – including oil companies, refineries and fuel distributors – would have been reviewed.
Nunez’s bill originally called for giving the attorney general 60 days
to initiate an investigation.
The bill sought to allow an emergency to be declared when an “abnormal
market disruption,” such as a cutoff of shipments by an oil producer, increases
wholesale and retail prices. The governor now can act only during such
circumstances like severe weather, earthquakes and acts of war or terrorism.
“The state’s anti-gouging law currently does not allow law enforcement
to hold accountable oil companies that profiteer when consumers are most
vulnerable,” Lockyer said in a written statement. He said the bill would have
Violators would have faced fines up to $10,000 and one year in jail.
California isn’t the only state this year to look into
adopting anti-gouging protections. The governors in Vermont and Wisconsin have approved protections while their counterparts in Colorado and South Carolina vetoed similar efforts.