SEATTLE — Washington motorists have been on the front lines of an epic surge in U.S. gas prices in the run-up to the summer driving season.
During the past month, Washington has ranked 15th in the U.S. for the biggest monthly increase in the cost of a gallon of regular, according to AAA price surveys.
In that time, the average cost of regular gasoline in Washington jumped more than 53 cents to nearly $5.22 per gallon as of Friday — just as many motorists hit the road in advance of Memorial Day.
The runaway prices in Washington and elsewhere in the nation are helping to supercharge inflation, looming large as a political issue and spurring two Washington state Democrats to take high-profile roles in shaping their party’s response in Congress to escalating gas prices.
Last week, Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish, cited the price run-up in her own neighborhood to help make the case for an anti-price-gouging bill she co-authored with Katie Porter, D-California.
The legislation, which passed the House last week in a 217-207 vote, would empower the Federal Trade Commission to go after fuel price gouging when a president declares an energy emergency.
“Gas and oil companies should be held accountable to be transparent about their pricing, and should be penalized for unconscionable, excessive or extreme prices,” Schrier said in a House floor speech. “This bill will give the FTC the ability to go after gas and oil companies and retailers that in a time of crisis jack up prices without justification.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is one of three West Coast senators to co-sponsor a bill directing the Energy Information Administration to collect more detailed information and make more disclosures about the pricing of consumer fuels. The legislation also would create a new unit within the FTC to monitor markets to increase watchdogging for manipulations or unfair methods of competition used to increase profits, and follow up with investigations.
This past week, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission and the Justice Department announced a $1.2 billion settlement to resolve charges that Switzerland-based Glencore International AG, an energy and commodities trading firm, engaged in schemes attempting to manipulate oil markets over 11 years ending in 2018. Cantwell said her bill would give the FTC a similar ability “to police bad actors” in gasoline markets.
“Let’s make sure that everybody understands in a tight supply it’s a lot easier to do manipulation and that is why we need to get this done,” Cantwell said in remarks on the Senate floor Thursday.
Both Cantwell and Schrier’s approaches have drawn plenty of potshots from Republicans, who along with some oil industry officials, have sought to put the spotlight on Biden administration policies they contend have unduly restricted oil exploration and development and contributed to higher gas prices.
“This is not an accident. This is not Putin. This is Joe Biden and the Democrats, and the Green New Deal and they’re desperately looking for a political excuse to blame somebody for the consequences of what they promised,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in opening remarks during an April Senate Commerce Committee hearing on oil pricing transparency.
On Wednesday, Cantwell’s bill failed to muster any Republican support, resulting in a 14-14 tie vote as it moved out of the committee.
In Washington, the national Republican talking points are echoed by the party’s candidates who seek to unseat Schrier, the state’s most vulnerable Democratic congressional incumbent, who in 2018 flipped the 8th Congressional District for the first time to Democrats.