As gas prices soar across the United States, President Joe Biden called on the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether illegal conduct is driving up the cost of gas prices for families. Americans have seen rising costs, from prices at the pump to shopping at grocery stores.
In a Wednesday letter addressed to Lina Khan, chair of the FTC, Mr. Biden called her attention to “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies.”
“The bottom line is this: gasoline prices at the pump remain high, even though oil and gas companies’ costs are declining,” Mr. Biden wrote. “The Federal Trade Commission has the authority to consider whether illegal conduct is costing families at the pump. I believe you should do so immediately.”
The cost of gasoline is up nearly 50% from a year ago, the latest Consumer Price Index showed, as inflation had its largest annual increase in more than 30 years at 6.2%. The average price for a gallon of gas is $3.41, according to AAA, which noted this was a slight dip from last month. The average price one year ago was $2.12.
AAA predicts more than 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from last year. That includes 48.3 million people by car.
In his letter to the FTC chair, Mr. Biden noted that a few months ago, the director of the National Economic Council wrote to her at his request asking the commission to consider monitoring gas markets and consider addressing illegal conduct. Since then, commission staff was directed by Khan to strengthen oversight, Biden said.
“However, prices at the pump have continued to rise, even as refined fuel costs go down and industry profits go up. Usually, prices at the pump correspond to movement in prices of unfinished gasoline, which is the main ingredient in the gas people buy at the gas station,” Biden wrote Wednesday. “But in the last month, the price of unfinished gasoline is down more than 5 percent while gas prices at the pump are up 3 percent in that same period. This unexplained large gap between the price of unfinished gasoline and the average price at the pump is well above the pre-pandemic average.”
In response to the president’s letter, a spokesperson for the commission said, “The FTC is concerned about this issue, and we are looking into it.”
The American Petroleum Institute, which is the lobbyist for the largest gas and oil companies, pushed back on the president’s request.
“This is a distraction from the fundamental market shift that is taking place and the ill-advised government decisions that are exacerbating this challenging situation. Demand has returned as the economy comes back and is outpacing supply. Further impacting the imbalance is the continued decision from the administration to restrict access to America’s energy supply and cancel important infrastructure projects,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president for policy, economics and regulatory affairs, in a statement. Rather than launching investigations on markets that are regulated or pleading with OPEC to increase supply, he said, “we should be encouraging the safe and responsible development of American-made oil and natural gas.”
Over the summer, the Biden administration urged OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and its allies to boost oil production in an effort to combat climbing prices as the coronavirus pandemic recovery continues.
Mr. Biden traveled to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon as part of his effort to tout the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed into law earlier this week. There, he visited General Motors’ electric vehicle assembly plant and highlighted how the law will help build electric vehicle charging stations making it easier to travel by electric vehicle across the country and reduce emissions.