Joe Biden takes issue with ‘illegal’ practices that are driving up gas prices

Every time gas prices jumped as high as 50 cents during the summer, Vice President Joe Biden warned that the issue was causing pain for ordinary Americans. That pain is being felt now —…

Joe Biden takes issue with ‘illegal’ practices that are driving up gas prices

Every time gas prices jumped as high as 50 cents during the summer, Vice President Joe Biden warned that the issue was causing pain for ordinary Americans. That pain is being felt now — and Biden said on Thursday that the White House is working to make it better.

“Our goal is to lower these prices as much as possible and to put them where they were before this crisis,” Biden said on Thursday. “In the meantime, we cannot afford to fail to protect America’s consumers.”

Biden called on the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday to investigate alleged “illegal conduct” that has inflated gas prices this winter, and said the Trump administration would be pressing for stronger rules to “keep oil speculators out of these markets.”

The central problem, said Biden, is that gasoline exports are “skyrocketing” and that refiners have been manipulating supply in order to drive up prices. “These manipulation efforts are making prices more expensive to customers today while generating profits for the companies at a time when families are feeling the bite of high prices at the pump,” he said.

Biden added that the Obama administration did not “speak out about what was happening” to crude oil and gasoline markets. He said the Trump administration should use the bully pulpit, since it has not publicly called out possible oil market manipulations.

Biden’s remarks come in the midst of an uptick in gas prices. In the past six months, the average price for a gallon of gas has more than doubled, from about $2.14 to about $3.37. As of Wednesday, gas prices in the Washington area, where Biden spoke on Thursday, were as high as $3.32 per gallon.

Shortly after the new president took office, the Obama administration cracked down on oil market manipulations. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission began giving short-term relief to BP, Marathon, and Valero over the summer, imposing a temporary delay on regulations that will force them to reduce how much they can trade in oil markets. The three companies eventually agreed to pay a combined $865 million to settle fines, and Valero put $150 million into a fund to compensate consumers for expensive gas.

Biden is the latest to raise concerns about the recent spike in gas prices, though in his case, he is talking directly to the head of the FTC about what it is being done to curb them. (Not every Trump administration official has agreed to speak out on gas prices, however: Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke declined an interview request on Wednesday. An administration official cited concerns that Zinke, as a former Navy SEAL, would not be willing to talk publicly.)

“Today, consumers are paying more at the pump because traders are taking advantage of the most natural thing in the world — America’s natural gas and abundant oil and coal supplies,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Wednesday.

There are signs that rising gas prices are becoming more of a political problem.

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania, released a TV ad on Wednesday that features a Trump cabinet secretary who said gas prices were too high. “We’re in the middle of a problem in American that we’ve never had before, and it’s called oil market manipulation,” Patrick J. McHenry, the deputy chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), says in the ad.

That remark drew a mixed reaction.

“These sorts of admissions are usually fairly easy to rebut — after all, the world is much better today than it was in 2008,” Bruce Josten, the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “But we now know, thanks to the Secretary of State and others, that prices are up largely because of the actions of a few oil companies who have enjoyed record profits. We all should be grateful that the American people are now being alerted to this troubling phenomenon.”

David Gill, the president of the Washington-based consulting firm Petroleum Information Service, said last week that he expected prices would be up through at least the winter. “Prices will probably creep higher throughout this winter in order to build up an inventory,” he said.

Those predictions have come true. Gasoline inventories are down due to high demand and little in the way of production. Analysts expect prices to keep climbing through February, when gas stockpiles typically drop.

This article was updated to include comments

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