Congress, campaigns engage in gas price tug-of-war as summer travel begins - Maryland Matters (2024)

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WASHINGTON — As Democrats continue to ramp up their push against the oil industry, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others on Thursday called out big oil companies and their executives for high gas prices heading into the heavily traveled Memorial Day weekend.

Republicans in turn have blamed President Joe Biden’s energy policies for high gas prices. The potency of the issue for both parties was illustrated by a new poll in seven battleground states that shows the economy and cost of living at the top of voters’ minds in the 2024 campaign for the presidency.

The Biden administration earlier this week said it will release 1 million gallons of oil from reserves in the northeastern United States in an effort to curb prices ahead of summer driving. And officials with the Biden campaign pointed out Thursday a Wall Street Journal report that prices are trending downward even before the weekend.

The national average price of a gallon of gas was $3.609 Friday, according to automotive group AAA, down from an all-time high of $5.016 in June 2022. Maryland prices were slightly higher, according to AAA, with the state average at $3.667 on Friday.

The Democratic lawmakers at Thursday’s news conference outside the U.S. Capitol included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island; House Assistant Minority Leader Joe Neguse of Colorado; and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán and Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, both of California.

“Instead of working to lower gas prices for Americans ahead of a busy Memorial Day weekend, Big Oil companies, executives, are huddling to find ways to keep prices high and keep their profits soaring,” Schumer said. The press conference was co-hosted by Climate Power, a strategic communications organization in the climate space and the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group.

Earlier in May, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that Scott Sheffield, the CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, “attempted to collude with the representatives of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and a related cartel of other oil-producing countries known as OPEC+ to reduce output of oil and gas, which would result in Americans paying higher prices at the pump, to inflate profits for his company.”

During Thursday’s event, Schumer said he would be sending a letter to U.S. Justice Department officials next week “calling on them to investigate and prosecute collusion and price fixing that may have increased gasoline, fuel and energy costs, based on the report done by the FTC, when they unfortunately allowed (Exxon) Mobil to … merge with Pioneer (Natural Resources), which I thought was a bad idea.”

Schumer added that “the federal government must use every tool at our disposal to investigate the oil industry, hold accountable liable actors and illegal activities. There’s something wrong — very wrong — when big oil companies rake in the cash by polluting the atmosphere and at the expense of the American people.”

Trump and oil companies

The Senate majority leader and his fellow Democratic lawmakers also called out former President Donald Trump over recent media reports saying Trump engaged in a quid pro quo offer with major oil companies’ CEOs in April.

Schumer said “one of the ways big oil companies spend their time these days is cozying up to Donald Trump, who, as we all know, is no enemy to big oil.”

Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, setting him up for a rematch with Biden.

Separately on Thursday, Whitehouse, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said their respective committees launched a joint investigation into Trump’s “quid pro quo offer to big oil.”

The senators are asking nine oil and gas companies and their trade associations for information and documents pertaining to the quid pro quo purportedly proposed by Trump.

Neguse said that for him, “all of this boils down to three words: polluters over people.” He noted that “over the last 16, 17 months, we have witnessed in the House an extreme MAGA Republican majority that has taken every opportunity to pass bill after bill to give giveaways to oil companies and to corporate polluters near and far.”

Republicans blame Biden

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, is seeking to turn the arguments back on Democrats. The group this week announced a series of events across the country where it will partner with local gas stations to roll back gasoline prices to what they were when Biden took office.

In March, the House GOP Conference said “the surging prices at the pump Americans are facing are a direct result from Joe Biden’s unprecedented war on American energy, which Biden launched on his first day in office in an attempt to appease his Far Left base by implementing his radical Green New Deal agenda.”

Republicans cited the U.S. Energy Department’s move to pause approvals of new exports of liquified natural gas to all countries without a free trade agreement with the United States, as well as the decision early in Biden’s tenure to kill the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.

Also Thursday, polling and analysis released by The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, in collaboration with Democratic polling firm BSG and Republican polling firm GS Strategy Group, found “the defining issue for this contest is a more traditional one: the economy.”

Over half of likely voters from swing states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, viewed inflation and the cost of living as the “worst/weakest” part of the economy, according to the report. In seven states combined, Trump led Biden 47% to 44% in a head-to-head matchup. Trump led in all states except Wisconsin.

Neither a spokesperson for the Trump Organization nor his 2024 presidential campaign immediately responded to a request for comment Thursday.

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Congress, campaigns engage in gas price tug-of-war as summer travel begins - Maryland Matters (2024)
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