TAX RELIEF ACT OF 2005
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Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today in support of the Cantwell anti-price gouging amendment to S. 2020, the tax reconciliation bill. This amendment is identical to Senator Cantwell's Energy Emergency Consumer Protection Act of 2005, a bill that I co-sponsored with 29 colleagues. This amendment will, for the first time, give our Federal Government the needed tools to prosecute those unscrupulous individuals and companies that seek to take advantage of emergencies and disasters by price gouging consumers in the sale of gasoline and other petroleum products.
We have all seen the suffering caused to consumers when gas prices spike in the wake of disruptions in supply caused by natural disasters. While gas prices have come down from their record levels of over $ 3.00 per gallon in many places in the last few weeks, they are still too high. And the experience of this past September teaches us that the danger to consumers resulting from tight supplies and high demand remains acute. We cannot allow consumers to remain vulnerable to price gouging and market manipulation the next time our essential energy supplies face disruption.
Recent experience shows us beyond doubt the need for this amendment. Allegations of price gouging and drastic price spikes were unfortunately commonplace in the immediate days following the Hurricane Katrina disaster--including, for example, gas being sold at $6.00 per gallon in the Atlanta area. It appeared that the human suffering caused by loss of life, housing, and employment, was compounded by some unscrupulous individuals and businesses who took advantage of the emergency by gouging consumers. Yet, under current law, the Federal Government had virtually no ability to prosecute such price gouging. This amendment will correct this critical deficiency.
This amendment contains several important provisions. First, it gives the President the authority to declare an energy emergency during times of disruptions in the supply or distribution of gasoline or petroleum products. Second, the amendment, for the first time, declares illegal under Federal law selling gasoline or petroleum products at a price unconscionably high or when circumstances indicate that the seller is taking unfair advantage to increase prices unreasonably in times of energy emergency. Those who violate this law face civil penalties of up to $3,000,000 per day and criminal penalties, including jail terms of up to 5 years for individuals, as well. The amendment also forbids market manipulation in connection with the sale of gasoline and petroleum products and empowers the experts at the Federal Trade Commission to write regulations setting forth specific conduct constitution market manipulation. Additionally, our amendment gives States attorneys general the power to enforce these provisions as well.
These measures are an urgently needed deterrent to prevent all those would seek to profit from disasters such as Hurricane Katrina by price gouging consumers in the price of gasoline or other essential energy supplies. Our amendment will protect consumers--both those who were the victims of Hurricane Katrina and those who may be victimized in the future--who suffer every day at the gas pumps from the real and growing economic pain caused by high gas and energy prices. As ranking member on the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, I believe that this measure is necessary to prevent unscrupulous companies from ever again using a natural or manmade disaster to justify uncompetitive gas price hikes. All of us can agree that profiteering and price gouging in the price of an essential commodity like gasoline is simply unacceptable. Such conduct violates every principle of free and fair competition. We must give the Federal Government the necessary tools to prevent such misconduct, and prosecute those who do so.
I urge my colleagues to support the Cantwell amendment.