President Obama’s big initiative for the day is yet another pledge to crack down on nefarious energy traders who are driving up prices of oil and gasoline.
Under pressure to take action on rising gasoline prices, President Barack Obama wants Congress to strengthen federal supervision of oil markets, increase penalties for market manipulation and empower regulators to increase the amount of money energy traders are required to put behind their transactions. The White House plan, which Obama was to unveil Tuesday, is more likely to draw sharp election-year distinctions with Republicans than have an immediate effect on prices at the pump. The measures seek to boost spending for Wall Street enforcement at a time when congressional Republicans are seeking to limit the reach of federal financial regulations.
If this pledge sounds familiar . . . it’s because Obama and his administration announce some new initiative to do this every year, usually as spring turns to summer and the price of gas increases as Americans drive more. It’s almost like the Cherry Blossom Festival.
The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether oil companies have engaged in anticompetitive practices or manipulated crude oil prices, the government’s latest salvo to rein in high energy prices. The commission said on Monday it was also looking into whether oil companies had provided false or misleading information to a federal agency related to the wholesale price of oil or petroleum products. “We remain committed to preventing and prosecuting any anticompetitive, fraudulent, or otherwise illegal activity which we identify through the foregoing investigation,” commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a letter to Senator John Rockefeller, who called on the FTC in March to launch an investigation.
Just about one year ago today, April, 2011:
With U.S. gasoline pump prices soaring, the Obama administration on Thursday unveiled a working group of federal agencies to probe potential fraud in the energy markets. The White House is worried that if average gas prices rise above $4 a gallon, the economic and political fallout could dominate next year’s presidential campaign and drown out President Barack Obama’s message of economic recovery. Obama asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to assemble a team of agency officials to “root out” cases of oil market fraud that affect pump prices, including actions by speculators.
Obama said he had ordered a review of why oil companies aren’t producing more petroleum on federal land, and said his administration would monitor “any possible manipulation in the oil markets” and work with state governments to monitor for potential price gouging at the gas pump.
Traders will face new rules aimed at making it easier for regulators to prove manipulation in markets for commodities such as oil, wheat and natural gas under the financial overhaul awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature.
And then in August 2009:
Energy traders and companies will face fines of up to $1 million a day if they manipulate oil markets, the Federal Trade Commission ruled on Thursday in a crackdown on fraud that they said causes widespread damage to the U.S. economy. The agency issued a rule, which takes effect November 4, to prohibit fraud or deceit both in the cash, or physical, energy markets and on the regulated futures exchanges.
Now . . . with gas averaging $3.89 per gallon nationally and much higher in many parts of the country, we can conclude that either every previous initiative announced by the administration was spectacularly ineffective at containing the nefarious menace of oil price speculators . . . or that oil-price speculators are not really the reason gas prices increase.