Senate Bill Would Force Emergency Action to Cut Gas Prices

WASHINGTON, March 21 - A group of senators today introduced a bill to make federal regulators invoke emergency powers to rein in speculators responsible for rapidly-rising gasoline prices. 

The legislation would set a 14-day deadline for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to implement rules to stop excessive speculation by Wall Street traders in oil futures markets. The bill by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

The measure was prompted by gasoline prices that are nearing $4 a gallon and the commission's refusal to obey a Wall Street reform law that required trading limits to be in place by Jan. 17, 2011.

"Millions of American consumers are hurting as a result of excessive speculation on the oil futures market and the future of our economy hangs in the balance.  The time to act is now," Sanders said at a news conference in the Capitol.

"Oil supply is up and demand is down so there is no logical reason why gas prices continue to soar," added Cardin. "We need to take decisive action now to stop the speculators who are driving up prices for all of us at a time we can least afford it."

"The CFTC has the power to stop this excessive speculation, but has been dragging its feet. This legislation would direct the CFTC to take immediate action to reduce unnecessary speculation and give families some relief at the pump," Klobuchar said.

"To combat excessive gas prices we need a crackdown on out-of-control speculation and gambling in oil markets," Blumenthal said. "This agency-- inactive for too long-- must be compelled to act, stopping manipulation and abuses that cost consumers and endanger our fragile economic recovery. "

"In Minnesota gas prices are averaging nearly $3.74 a gallon for regular and there's plenty of agreement that speculators are driving up the price-accounting for about 56 cents extra per gallon," said Sen. Franken. "The Commodities Futures Trading Commission needs to stop dragging its feet and set position limits on speculators like it was mandated to do in the Wall Street Reform law. The legislation we are introducing today would force the Commission to take action which would help Minnesotans at the pump. It's the right thing to do." 

The recent surge in crude oil prices is widely attributed to speculators who control more than 80 percent of the energy futures market, a figure that has more than doubled over the past decade.

Higher oil prices have in turn pushed up the price of gasoline, which stood at a national average of $3.84 per gallon on Tuesday. Supplies are greater today than three years ago, when the national average price for a gallon of gasoline was just $1.94.  The demand for oil in the U.S. is lower today than it was in April of 1997. 

There is broad consensus that speculators are to blame. Exxon Mobil, the American Trucking Association, Delta Airlines, the Petroleum Marketers Association of America and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis all say excessive oil speculation significantly increases oil and gasoline prices. Citing a recent report from the investment bank Goldman Sachs, a Feb. 27, 2012, article in Forbes said excessive oil speculation adds $.56 to the price of a gallon of gas.

The legislation calling for emergency action is identical to bipartisan legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 402-19 during a similar crisis in 2008.