Sen. Maria Cantwell, as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee on energy, is well positioned to take on Big Oil over soaring gasoline prices. And she is doing just that.
Cantwell's aggressive approach is being questioned by some as a political ploy because Cantwell is up for re-election next year.
Perhaps politics does play a role in her timing, but that doesn't alter the fact the high cost of gasoline is a national concern.
Gasoline, like water and electricity, is a commodity that has become critical to our lives. The government should be watching to make sure consumers are not being gouged.
Cantwell, D-Wash, is not new to this issue, The Tacoma News Tribune reported this week. She has been focused on issues involving oil markets and gasoline prices since 2008.
Recently Cantwell issued a study that found Washington state drivers will pay $672 million more for gasoline this summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, compared with last year. Each driver in the state can expect to pay an additional $150, she said.
The public is upset by the higher price of gasoline and people are not shy about telling Cantwell (or any lawmaker) about it.
"To say an earful all the time would be an understatement," Cantwell said.
Cantwell is wise to use her position as subcommittee chairwoman to tackle an issue voters (consumers) care deeply about. The price of gasoline is also linked to the health of the U.S. economy and national security.
Politics aside, this is a complex issue. How the price of gasoline is set goes far beyond supply and demand.
Cantwell has, on several occasions, called for he Federal Trade Commission to investigate any links between higher gasoline prices and an increase in wholesale oil markets. She said the price per barrel of oil over the past four years has varied drastically despite little change in the world's supply and demand, according to The News Tribune.
Cantwell and other senators have called on the Commodities Futures Trade Commission to act to reduce the excessive speculation in the market by requiring speculators to put up a higher percentage of cash to purchase oil futures. The senators wrote a joint letter to the commission.
"While there has been little change in the balance of the world's oil supply and demand since 2008, oil prices have jumped around from $147 per barrel, to $31, to $86, to around $104 today," the senators wrote. "(Recently) crude oil plunged 8.6 percent in one day, the largest drop ever in absolute terms, which according to multiple media outlets corresponded with a rapid withdrawal of positions by oil market speculators."
If oil companies can't keep prices and profits at reasonable levels then stricter government oversight and regulation is needed.