(WHTM) — “Obscene and shameful.” That is how Pennsylvania House Democrats described oil company profits that have soared 300% in the last year while Pennsylvanians pay more and more at the pump.
State legislators have introduced a series of bills targeting what they call price gouging and price-fixing.
One bill would not allow gas prices to increase more than once in a 24-hour period. Another would give the Attorney General more power to go after price gouging. At the moment, he can only do that during a state of emergency. A third bill would also give the AG more teeth to root out anti-trust violations and collusion to price gouge.
As of June 22, the average price of gas in Pennsylvania still hovers around $5 per gallon.
“Their pocketbooks and their wallets are running empty and we need to make sure their cup is runneth over and we need to do something about it,” said Rep. Darisha Parker (D-Philadelphia).
Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, a Democrat from Luzerne County, says 300% profits for oil companies is “totally unpatriotic.”
“It’s a shame that we actually have to find legislation to correct this,” said Pashinski. “Shame on them, shame on those companies.”
Some lawmakers say there’s enough evidence that large companies are “ripping off Pennsylvanians and colluding to raise praises.” Rep. Nick Pisciottano (D-Allegheny) says companies are raising prices “so they can squeeze every cent from you that they can.”
Suspending the 58 cent a gallon Pennsylvania state gas tax would mean less funding for state roads, bridges, and State Police.
“It isn’t a long term solution,” said Minority Leader Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) “because we need that funding so we can keep safety on our highways.”
Republicans and conservative groups aren’t on board with the plan and are pointing to government spending and giveaways.
“Gas prices are up 64 percent since 2010,” said Nathan Benefield with the Commonwealth Foundation. “Government spending, state government spending is up 174%, so who’s really gouging Pennsylvanians?”
President Joe Biden has asked Congress for a three month suspension of the federal gas and diesel taxes.
The Democratic president also called on states to suspend their own gas taxes or provide similar relief, and he delivered a public critique of the energy industry for prioritizing profits over production. It would take action by lawmakers in Washington and in statehouses across the country to actually bring relief to consumers.
“It doesn’t reduce all the pain but it will be a big help,” Biden said, using the bully pulpit when his administration believes it has run out of direct levers to address soaring gas prices. “I’m doing my part. I want Congress, states and industry to do their part as well.”
At issue is the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax on gas and the 24.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax on diesel fuel. If the gas savings were fully passed along to consumers, people would save roughly 3.6% at the pump when prices are averaging about $5 a gallon nationwide.
Biden’s push faces uphill odds in Congress, which must act in order to suspend the tax, and where many lawmakers, including some in his own party, have expressed reservations. Even many economists view the idea of a gas tax holiday with skepticism.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a noncommittal response to Biden’s proposal, saying she would look to see if there was support for it in Congress.
“We will see where the consensus lies on a path forward for the president’s proposal in the House and the Senate,” Pelosi said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.