| An operation of fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil near Chicago USA Richard Hurd Flickr CC BY 20 | MR Online ExxonMobil operation near Chicago, IL, summer of 2014

Congress urged to tax Big Oil for price fixing and ‘issue every American a refund

Originally published: Common Dreams on May 7, 2024 by Jessica Corbett (more by Common Dreams)  | (Posted May 09, 2024)

Groundwork Collaborative executive director Lindsay Owens on Tuesday responded to U.S. government allegations of fossil fuel industry price fixing with calls for federal prosecution and congressional action to return money to the American public.

“Americans have been working harder and harder to cover rising energy costs, with the understanding that supply chain snags and geopolitical forces were keeping prices high,” Owens said.

Now the Federal Trade Commission has uncovered the real source behind the price at the pump: collusion.

“The Department of Justice should criminally prosecute Scott Sheffield and Congress should tax back the industry’s windfall profits and issue every American a refund,” she added, referring to Pioneer Natural Resources’ founder and longtime CEO.

Owens’ statement came after members of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) declined to contest ExxonMobil’s controversial $64.5 billion acquisition of Pioneer—which was completed Friday—but approved a consent order barring Sheffield from serving on Exxon’s board of directors or as an adviser to the fossil fuel giant.

This complaint is a wake-up call about the dangerous consolidation of Big Oil’s economic and political power.

The FTC voted 3-2 to accept the order and place related documents on the record for public comment. Citing communications including in-person meetings, public statements, text messages, and WhatsApp conversations, a commission complaint accuses Sheffield of trying to collude with the representatives of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and OPEC+.

“Mr. Sheffield’s past conduct makes it crystal clear that he should be nowhere near Exxon’s boardroom. American consumers shouldn’t pay unfair prices at the pump simply to pad a corporate executive’s pocketbook,” said Kyle Mach, deputy director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition.

The FTC will remain vigilant in its enforcement efforts to protect competition in these vital markets.

Pioneer toldFortune that the company and its founder “believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” but neither party would take “any steps to prevent the merger from closing.”

ExxonMobil “learned of the FTC’s allegations regarding Sheffield from the agency and said in a statement that they are ‘entirely inconsistent with how we do business,'” according to Fortune. “Exxon has agreed to the terms of the consent decree,” which also “prohibits the oil giant from appointing any Pioneer employee or director to its board for five years.”

Still, since the FTC’s allegations were initially reported by The Wall Street Journal last week and then confirmed with the complaint’s release, demands for additional action by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Congress have mounted.

Cassidy DiPaola, Fossil Free Media’s director of communications, on Monday called the complaint “explosive” and said that Democrats “must respond with bold action to hold this rogue industry accountable,” including:

  • Aggressive congressional and DOJ investigations into the full extent of Big Oil’s price fixing;
  • A windfall profits tax to claw back ill-gotten gains; and
  • End taxpayer subsidies for oil and gas.

“But accountability is just the first step. This complaint is a wake-up call about the dangerous consolidation of Big Oil’s economic and political power. We can’t let them use megamergers to entrench their control and crush clean energy competition,” she stressed.

Ultimately, this is about the future we choose: One where we remain at the mercy of Big Oil’s greed and destruction, or one where clean, democratically controlled energy powers our communities. It’s time to make the right choice.

In response to the Journal‘s reporting, Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, similarly said that “Congress must immediately hold hearings on Big Oil’s alleged collusion with OPEC to raise gasoline prices for Americans.”

“Congress must not only investigate Pioneer’s alleged role in conspiring with OPEC, but whether there existed a broader conspiracy by U.S. oil companies to collude with OPEC nations,” he argued.

Big Oil must be held accountable for any conspiracy by or among American oil companies and OPEC members.

The reporting was notably published on the same day as the U.S. Senate Budget Committee’s hearing about a nearly three-year investigation into fossil fuel companies and trade groups’ decadeslong “campaign of deception and distraction,” which has evolved from denying the planet-heating impact of their products to pretending to be part of the solution to the climate emergency.

“The joint report and documents we discovered show how, time and again, the biggest oil and gas corporations say one thing for the purposes of public consumption but do something completely different to protect their profits,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, testified during the hearing.

Company officials will admit the terrifying reality of their business model behind closed doors but say something entirely different, false, and soothing to the public.

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