Oil Lobby Accused of Killing California Anti-Gouging Law

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The NewStandard

Consumer advocates in California are decrying the “sudden death” of a bill to combat alleged price manipulation by oil refiners, pointing to the oil-industry lobby as the main force that squelched the bill while it approached an assembly vote.

Sponsored by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the bill would have set automatic price caps on gasoline during a state of “abnormal market disruption.” Under the provision, if the governor determined that the supply or distribution of fuel, as well as other products and services, had been severely damaged by market manipulation, subsequent price increases would automatically be capped at 10 percent.

At the close of the legislative session on Thursday, Lockyer and other proponents had anticipated that they had secured enough votes to ensure its passage, but abruptly, the bill’s co-sponsor, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D’Los Angeles), declined to call the bill up for a vote. Parallel legislation had previously been stalled in the state Senate.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights had backed the Attorney General in shepherding the bill through the Assembly, and the apparent about-face shocked the state-based watchdog group. Research Director Judy Dugan speculated that the bill’s death was likely the result of intense pressure from the oil-industry lobby, which has successfully rallied state lawmakers to block nearly a dozen other proposals to regulate oil companies in this legislative session.

Since 2000, oil and gas interests have contributed over $5 million to California elections, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics, a non-partisan research organization.

The Foundation argues that soaring prices at the pump have been largely due not to market fluctuations but to the oil industry’s drive to hoard revenues. In an analysis of gas-price spikes in California from January to April, the group traced 42 cents of a 60-cent price increase directly to “increased refinery and marketing profit margins for the oil companies.”

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