US Rep. Bart Stupak and 78 other House of Representatives members introduced a bill Wednesday that would crack down on gasoline price gouging by instituting harsh criminal and civil penalties on oil and gas corporations and on individuals. The bill would permit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate alleged price gouging in the crude oil, home heating oil, propane and natural gas sectors. Currently, the FTC is limited to investigating antitrust violations in connection with the industries, but lacks authority to probe price gouging. Although twenty-nine states have price-gouging laws, FTC Commissioner Deborah Platt Majoras cautioned against federal legislation last year due to the difficulty in distinguishing reasonable price fluctuations from price gouging and the deleterious effect the penalties would have on consumers.
Last May, the House passed a similar bill, the Federal Energy Price Protection Act, that would have required the FTC to define price gouging within six months of the bill's final passage. In addition, fuel refiners, wholesalers and retailers who engage in price gouging would have faced fines from $2 million to $150 million, the possibility of imprisonment, and increased civil penalties up to three times the amount of profits earned. The bill did not gain passage in the Senate.