The people of Oregon are getting “ripped off” by higher prices. Those are the words of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who says inflation is leading to price gouging by big corporations.
The latest numbers show food prices alone have shot up more than 12% in the past year.
Merkley says large corporations, including grocery store chains and oil companies, have massively increased their profits.
To combat excessive price hikes, he is co-sponsoring the Price Gouging Prevention Act of 2022. He says it would put some “teeth” into the laws already on the books, beginning with a specific definition of price gouging.
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Merkley said that could lead to prosecutions, especially during a crisis.
“What exactly constitutes a crisis under the law and then what penalties are attorney generals empowered to extract and what kind of restrictions is the federal trade commission allowed to put in place,” Merkley said. “So this kind of says ‘Well, we have these general notions that it’s certainly immoral and potentially, possibly illegal to gouge during a crisis.’ This makes it very clear that it is and gives specific remedies.”
Merkley said if the bill becomes law, penalties against oil companies would bring in about $45 billion that could be refunded to consumers.
The House passed a similar measure in May. If it becomes law, the president could an energy emergency that would make it unlawful to increase gasoline and home energy fuel prices in an “excessive” or exploitative manner. The bill directs the Federal Trade Commission to punish companies that engage in price gouging and adds a new unit at the FTC to monitor fuel markets.
ExxonMobil, Chevron and other major oil companies announced surging profits totaling more than $40 billion in the first quarter of the year. Many of the companies are spending billions on stock buybacks and dividend payments to investors.
Industry groups called the bill misguided, saying there is no evidence of price gouging. Oil is a global commodity and prices are set on the global market.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.