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Oil companies need to stop screwing New Jersey drivers at the pump | Opinion

Originally published in the Bergen Record.

Oil companies need to stop screwing New Jersey drivers at the pump | Opinion

By Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr.

This spring, as gas station prices drastically ticked up amid Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, something felt amiss.

It seemed convenient for energy companies that gas prices were rising solely because of the war in Ukraine — and at the exorbitant rates they were climbing.

Within weeks of the start of Russia’s war, the average gallon of gas in New Jersey shot up nearly a dollar. Jumps in other parts of the country were even higher. By the first day of summer, June 21, gas prices in New Jersey peaked at just over $5 a gallon, a rise of approximately 40% from pre-Ukraine war rates.

While Americans from North Jersey to Southern California were miserable, oil executives were gleeful. Profits to oil barons flew through the roof. Oil tycoons were swimming in record profits and announcing rampant stock buybacks to pad their wallets and the wallets of their shareholders.

As New Jersey’s only member of the House committee in change of tax policy, I began to explore why prices were rising so much.

On our committee, I serve as the chairman of the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee panel, which exposes abuses of the U.S. tax code. There are many abuses, so we keep busy. But you would be hard-pressed to find more egregious abuses than giant oil companies manipulating the federal tax laws to award themselves dividends and buybacks on the backs of the Americans being hosed at the gas station.

As we commenced our investigation, our committee found something very interesting: several big oil companies enjoy a raft of generous federal tax benefits paid for by the American public.

So I wrote individually to the heads of the 11 oil and gas companies with revenues over one billion dollars. These companies were: Enbridge, Shell, Exxon, BP, Chevron, Marathon Petroleum, Equinor, ConocoPhillips, Pioneer Natural, Devon, and APA. I asked all 11 CEOs how and why they were using federal tax credits and tax laws to balloon their profits.

The numbers are eye-popping. In 2021, these companies made a combined $133 billion in revenue, ranging from $23.5 billion at the high end to $973 million at the low end. Their chief executives did well too: with 2021 compensation packages ranging up to $33 million.

For months, our committee followed up and monitored the companies. On Aug. 24, the Ways and Means Committee made public an official report vindicating my suspicions and showing exactly what is happening: these companies failed to ramp up production to meet demand. These companies kept production low so their profits could be sky high – and they’ve used inflation and the Ukraine war as cover for their gouging greed.

That these companies have been cashing in on Americans’ misery is clear — and worsening. In the last several weeks, gas prices have been rising in communities across America. Even in New Jersey the average gallon of gas rose over 25 cents between Sept. 20 and Oct. 11. And in those same three weeks, the national average went from $3.67 to $3.93.

Americans’ anger at these rises is understandable. The pleas and frustration of Americans at gas prices is heard loud and clear. In Washington we have followed gas prices every day and acted on aggressive measures to combat gouging.

On May 19, House Democrats passed the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, watershed legislation that would crackdown on artificially high gas prices and increase oversight and accountability in the energy market.

But the government’s commitment to end gouging is not shared equally by both of our political parties. Republicans like to blame President Joe Biden, but when we voted on this emergency legislation to help stop big oil companies from robbing us blind at the pump, every Republican in the chamber voted no.

Let me repeat it because it is so stark: every single Republican in Congress voted to keep gas prices inflated.

This winter, when we need to turn up the thermostat to stay toasty, if utility companies try to jack up our rates our bill would let the government crackdown on them and stop the greed. But Republicans still said “hell no.”

Mercilessly wielding the filibuster, Republican senators led by Mitch McConnell are blocking the bill for now 150 days and counting.

Democrats also passed the landmark Inflation Reduction Act that will help lower energy costs for families, reduce overall demand for fossil fuels, and combat climate change. Our historic law offers $9 billion in consumer home energy rebate incentives and new tax credits for electric vehicles and energy-saving appliances.

Reports indicate our new law will drive down energy costs by over $1,000 and make America the world’s leading energy provider.

With the latest unacceptable move by the OPEC cartel led by Saudi Arabia to subsidize Russia’s war in Ukraine, we don’t know how long the current rise at the pump will last.

While the current $3.63 average price isn’t five dollars, it is high and high should not be the acceptable norm. Whether it is another day or another month or worse, Americans are sick and tired of being shaken down trying to fill their cars by billion-dollar companies.

Congress must pass more relief legislation. It’s time to put the brakes on gas gouging once and for all.

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