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Big Oil profiteers

Activists demonstrate outside of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. prior to a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Big Oil profiteering. (Photo: Kevin Wolf/AP Images)

House Dems Rip Fossil Fuel Execs for Price Gouging Consumers

"Big Oil is lining their pockets with one hand and taking billions in taxpayer subsidies with the other. Meanwhile, the American people are getting ripped off."

Brett Wilkins

Democratic lawmakers inside the halls of Congress and activists outside on Wednesday excoriated Big Oil executives for reaping record corporate profits by price gouging U.S. consumers.

"These executives are far more interested in exploiting the pandemic and war in Ukraine to pad their bottom lines and make Americans pay on both ends."

"At a time of record profits, Big Oil is refusing to increase production to provide the American people some much-needed relief at the gas pump," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said during a hearing entitled "Gouged at the Gas Station: Big Oil and America's Pain at the Pump."

"Instead, they are buying back their stock at an estimated cost of about $40 billion this year," he continued. "Big Oil is lining their pockets with one hand and taking billions in taxpayer subsidies with the other. Meanwhile, the American people are getting ripped off as these companies choose to keep production low so that their own profits stay high."

"The bottom line," Pallone added, "is that you set the wholesale price and that's the biggest part of the retail price. So don't tell us you can't do anything about it. You can do something about it. And we expect you to do that. Maybe it's a matter of patriotism—I don't know what to call it—but something must be done on your part."

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said that "we understand that the Covid-19 pandemic threw that marketplace into disarray. And we understand that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin's senseless, vicious invasion of Ukraine has further reduced the world's oil supply as more and more companies are unwilling to buy Russian oil."

"But here's the thing," DeGette added, "if the price of gas is driven by the local market, why is the price of oil coming down but the price at the pump is still near record highs?"

According to the watchdog Accountable.US, the six companies that appeared remotely at Wednesday's hearing—BP America, Chevron, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Pioneer Natural Resources, and Shell—reported more than $71 billion in profits last year. They used over $8 billion of those record profits on stock buybacks, while paying out more than $38 billion in shareholder dividends. 

The companies have also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political lobbying and campaign contributions over the past decade, according to the House Oversight Committee and Forbes noted that Big Oil donated $383,000 to the lawmakers that questioned the executives at Wednesday's hearing—97% of which went to Republicans. 

Prior to the hearing, activists demonstrated outside the Rayburn House Office Building, where they decried fossil fuel corporations' profiteering off Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Climate and consumer campaigners also condemned the price gouging executives.

"There is nothing these Big Oil executives said today that justifies their ongoing war profiteering that is making them billions while Americans struggle to pay high gas prices," Jamie Henn, spokesperson for STOP (Stop the Oil Profiteering), asserted in a statement.

Henn continued:

These Big Oil companies are raking in obscene profits after collaborating with Putin for years, yet they still have the gall to stick their hands out and ask for more from American taxpayers. Big Oil executives clearly won't hold themselves accountable, so it is time Congress does by listening to the vast majority of American voters and passing a windfall profits tax that gives consumers immediate relief from high prices and makes Big Oil pay for a crisis they helped create at home and abroad.

According to recent polling, 80% of Americans—regardless of political affiliation—support a windfall profits tax on large fossil fuel companies.

Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig said that the executives who testified Wednesday "failed to explain why they refuse to use their eye-popping $71.2 billion in profits to lower gas prices for American consumers struggling to fill their tanks and instead choose to shower wealthy executives and shareholders with billions in dividends and stock buybacks."

"They should be ashamed," he continued. "Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle were right to call them out."

"Instead, these executives are far more interested in exploiting the pandemic and war in Ukraine to pad their bottom lines and make Americans pay on both ends," Herrig added. "They are gouging consumers at the pump and rigging the system to avoid paying their fair share in drilling royalties on public lands, shortchanging taxpayers, public schools, and critical infrastructure like roads and hospitals."

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