02.29.12

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On NOPEC Amendment To The Moving Ahead For Progress In The 21st Century Act

As Submitted To The Congressional Record

I am proud to join Senator Kohl and have long supported the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act (NOPEC).  We were able to pass this NOPEC bill as a response to the OPEC oil cartel by a vote of 70 to 23 a few years ago.  The Senate should pass it again.  This time, the House should also adopt this sensible application of our antitrust laws to those who fix prices and manipulate the oil market to the detriment of American consumers.   

We should be doing what we can to ensure that oil prices are not artificially inflated.  That affects gas prices at the pump.  This NOPEC amendment will hold accountable the collusive behavior that artificially reduces supply and increases the price of fuel.  The rise and fall of oil and gas prices has a direct impact on American consumers and our economy.  We should increase accountability and take away the profits of those who manipulate prices and supply to their benefit and unfairly prey upon consumers.  

On Monday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that prices for regular gas rose 13 cents per gallon last week to a nationwide average of $3.78.  Gasoline pump prices are up 34 cents a gallon over last year.  The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the skyrocketing price of oil in May 2008, but these recent increases in price have led to renewed calls for investigation into their causes.  We already know one significant cause: anticompetitive conduct by oil cartels. 

The artificial pricing scheme enforced by OPEC affects all of us. Fuel prices are on the rise and American consumers and businesses are feeling the pain at the pump.  This week Vermonters are paying $ 3.79 for a gallon of regular gasoline; last week, Vermonters were paying $3.70 – a price jump of nine cents in just one week.  In 2011, the price for certain fuels rose by as much as one third from 2010, according to the Vermont Department of Public Service.  These prices affect everyone.  These high fuel prices hit Vermonters especially hard in even the most mild of winters. 

In rural states like Vermont, the cost of simply getting to work or to the grocery store because of high gas prices can further hurt already strapped household incomes.  Vermont farmers shoulder the burden of surging fuel prices year-round, regardless of the season.  Higher fuel prices can add thousands of dollars in yearly costs to a 100-head dairy operation in the Northeast.

As we head into the summer months, when gas prices typically increase, soaring prices at the pump can affect the tourism industry, an economic driver in vacation destinations like Vermont.  As our summer months approach, many families in and around Vermont are going to find that OPEC has put an expensive crimp in their plans.  Some are likely to stay home -- others will pay more to drive or to fly so that they can visit their families or take their well-deserved vacations.

American consumers should not be held as economic hostages to the whim of those who collude unfairly for their gain.   We should not permit anyone to manipulate oil prices in an anticompetitive manner.   The collusive behavior of certain oil producing nations has artificially and drastically reduced the supply and inflated the price of fuel.  Put simply, the behavior of these oil cartels, which would be illegal under antitrust laws, harms American consumers and businesses and our recovering economy. 

Authorizing action against illegal oil price fixing and taking that action without delay is one thing we can do without additional obstruction or delay.   Our amendment would allow the Justice Department to crack down on illegal price manipulation by oil cartels.  This bill will allow the Federal Government to take legal action against any foreign state, including members of OPEC, for price fixing and artificially limiting the amount of available oil.  While OPEC actions remain sheltered from antitrust enforcement, the ability of the governments involved to wreak havoc on the American economy remains unchecked.

Our antitrust laws have been called the “Magna Carta of free enterprise.”  If OPEC were simply a foreign business engaged in this type of behavior, it would already be subject to them.  It is wrong to let OPEC producers off the hook just because their anticompetitive practices come with the seal of approval of national governments. 

In the past, our NOPEC legislation has had bipartisan support.  A few years ago it passed overwhelmingly.  By passing this legislation, we can say “No” to OPEC.

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