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WASHINGTON -- An anti-pricing gouging bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a wide majority of 284-141 yesterday, which gives the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to probe price profiteering from gasoline and other refined products during a state of energy emergency, Reuters reported.
Called the Federal Price Gouging Protection Act, the bill comes at a time when consumer prices for gasoline are at an all-time high. The price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline stood at a nationwide average of $3.22 per gallon yesterday, according to AAA.
The bill bans retailers from charging "unconscionably excessive" prices for fuel, or from taking unfair advantage of consumers, the report stated. It is meant to prevent gasoline stations from jacking up prices as a result of a catastrophe such as the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast region in 2005.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the bill's sponsor, told Reuters the legislation is "a first step in addressing the outrageous prices we are seeing at the gas pump."
The bill gives the FTC "the explicit authority to investigate and punish those who artificially inflate the price of energy," and requires retailers found disobeying the law to pay three times the amount in damages or up to $3 million for prices found to be excessive.
However, some Republicans noted the bill was imperfect.
"It's a flawed bill -- the definitions are not there," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said. Oil industry trade groups such as the National Association of Shell Marketers (NASM) also oppose the bill, stating that the term "unconscionably excessive" prices is ambiguous and causes confusion. Other groups have stated high prices have come from market conditions, not manipulation, the report stated.
The bill still has to be passed by the Senate, and even if it makes it through, it could still be overturned by President Bush, whose administration has threatened to recommend a veto of the bill, the report stated. The White House administration described the measure as a "vague and arbitrary regulatory regime," which will bring about lawsuits and possibly "bring back long gas lines reminiscent of the 1970s."
"Gasoline price controls are an old -- and failed -- policy choice that will exacerbate shortages and increase fuel hoarding after natural disasters, denying fuel to people when they most need it," the White House said in a statement.