FEDERAL ENERGY PRICE PROTECTION ACT OF 2006 -- (House of Representatives - May 03, 2006)
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Mrs. WILSON of New Mexico. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
My colleague from Michigan talks about the need to move quickly, and the truth is, I introduced a price-gouging bill in September of last year in the wake of Katrina. It was a bipartisan bill with the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown) as the lead cosponsor.
In October, we passed price-gouging legislation combined with the refinery bill in what is called the Gas Act, and it is true my colleague from Michigan did propose an alternative which I opposed because I felt as though the definitions in his bill were unclear and would invite litigation rather than solutions.
We are trying to move forward with a piece of legislation that will give real authority to the Federal Trade Commission that they do not currently have now. Twenty-three States have laws on price gouging. So we have got about close to half the States in the Nation have some form of law in price gouging, all with various provisions, definitions and so forth, but the Federal Trade Commission that is empowered at the Federal level with being the agency responsible for looking at consumers and consumer protection only has authority to look at gasoline and oil with respect to collusion. If there is collusion between two companies on setting the price of gasoline, then they have the authority to investigate, but they have no authority to investigate when it comes to unreasonable and unfair trade practices. This legislation we are offering today would give them that new authority at the Federal level.
I think this is a good piece of legislation, and I would ask my colleagues to support it.
H.R. 5253 would prohibit price gouging at any time. It is not limited to emergencies or in the wake of natural disasters. I will be very honest; the thing that caused me to introduce price-gouging legislation last September was what we all saw in the wake of Katrina: opportunists taking advantage of a terrible situation and a natural disaster to pump up the price of gasoline for people who were trying to flee for their lives. That is not right, and it is what spurred me to introduce the price-gouging legislation.
The modification in the bill that is before us today is that the price-gouging authority for the Federal Trade Commission would not require a disasters trigger, but they could look at unfair trade practices at any time, not limited to emergencies. It also covers gasoline, diesel, crude oil, home heating oil and biofuels. So it goes across a wide variety of full types.
It also sets pretty stiff criminal and civil penalties for price gouging and allows these investigations by the Federal Trade Commission as well as by the States.
Under these provisions, the Federal Trade Commission would consider public comment in defining exactly what wholesale pricing is, what retail pricing is, and it gives them some regulatory authority to come up with definitions. The truth is, we have got 23 State laws. Some of those laws are very, very different, and I think it makes some sense to allow the States and those involved to come up with a national definition that will work best for consumers in the marketplace.
The legislation we are offering today would not, however, preempt those State laws. So the States would still be able to use their State laws to address problems with price gouging in their own jurisdictions. This would give additional authority to the Federal Trade Commission and to States that choose to use the Federal law to investigate price gouging in their own States.
It seems to me that this is one thing that we have to do. We have done it first in a larger bill, as a piece of a larger bill last October, but I think the approach we are trying to take here in the House of Representatives is to say we want America to be more energy independent, and that is going to take a long-term, balanced approach that deals with supply, demand and protecting consumers.
This is one piece of that puzzle. We will be dealing with other pieces of that puzzle as we move along, everything from coal-to-oil gasification, encouraging more hydrogen-powered cars, encouraging more E85, using ethanol in our gas tanks, so both conservation and increasing domestic supply so that America becomes more energy independent.
I encourage my colleagues to support this proposal.
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Mrs. WILSON of New Mexico. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Michigan for his support of this legislation. I introduced a bipartisan bill in September of 2005 about the same time that my colleague from Michigan did. Our approaches are different in some respects, but this legislation we are voting on today, a slightly different version of which was included in the October 2005 Gas Act that the House has already passed, is a good bill. It is a solid piece of legislation and deserves the support of the House.
I also recognize that this is only one piece of the puzzle. We want to give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to investigate possible price gouging. But that is not going to solve all of our energy problems. This focuses on one piece of the problem. The bill that we will consider next on the floor of the House will also look at another piece of the problem, and we are going to try to pass some further legislation that deals with tax codes, that increases domestic supply, that invests in alternative sources, things like E-85.
Since we passed the Energy Act in August and the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee came out to New Mexico to sign that landmark piece of legislation, there are 29 new ethanol plants that have requested permits so that we can use corn to fuel our vehicles rather than having to import oil from other countries.
Mr. Speaker, this bill includes strong penalties, in fact stronger than the ones that my colleague from Michigan has in his bill. I think maybe if we would have worked together, we could have come up with a good bill that both of our names were on. It gives us good clear definitions and says, we have got 23 States that have price-gouging laws, we need to get a clear Federal definition of price gouging, and the Federal Trade Commission will give that to us.
It also deals with every month of the year. The bill that we introduced in September, and my colleague from Michigan's bill as well, only deals with emergencies, when a disaster is declared. I think there is justification for saying the Federal Trade Commission should have authority to look at unfair trade practices, whatever time they may be.
Mr. STUPAK. Mr. Speaker, will the gentlewoman yield?
Mrs. WILSON of New Mexico. I yield to the gentleman from Michigan.
Mr. STUPAK. The gentlewoman is wrong on our legislation. My legislation, the FREE Act, applies to everything. It was your legislation that only dealt with national emergencies.
Mrs. WILSON of New Mexico. If I am incorrect on that, I apologize, Mr. Stupak. It was my understanding that your bill would require a trigger.
Mr. STUPAK. If we had hearings and witnesses, we could bring out the differences between the bills, but since we have been denied it, I have to use this tactic to get the record straight on the floor.
Mrs. WILSON of New Mexico. I thank my colleague from Michigan.
This is a piece of legislation that all of us have been working on for over 8 months now, and I look forward to working with him as we move forward.
Also, this piece of legislation does not overwrite State law. In other words, those 23 States that do have some form of price-gouging legislation, that law stays in effect so that States can use the Federal law, the Federal Trade Commission can use the Federal law, or States can use their own law so that we don't preempt State law.
I think this is a good piece of legislation, a piece of legislation that will help to address the problems that every American is feeling at the pump and help to make America more energy independent. I ask my colleagues for their support, and I urge adoption of H.R. 5253.
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