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New York Attorney General Letitia James announces a lawsuit against e-cigarette giant Juul on November 19, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York AG Launching Probe Into Price Gouging by Oil Companies

"Price gouging is unfair and illegal and my office is determined to make sure it doesn't happen in our state," said Attorney General Letitia James.

Jenna McGuire

New York Attorney General Letitia James is launching a formal investigation on Thursday to determine whether the fossil fuel industry has engaged in gas price gouging, according to multiple news reports.

The full-scale investigation, believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S., will examine the state's entire supply chain of production—including major oil companies, crude refineries, independent operators of pipelines, manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and shipping firms.

The probe won praise from climate organizer and Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn, who tweeted, "These moves to hold Big Oil accountable add momentum to the growing push for a Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax."

"Soaring gas prices are forcing working New Yorkers and low-income families to make difficult decisions on whether to pay bills or put food on the table," James said in a statement to CNN. "Price gouging is unfair and illegal and my office is determined to make sure it doesn't happen in our state."

Gas prices have been skyrocketing across the U.S., while oil and gas companies are reporting record-setting profits.

Executives from Big Oil giants BP America, Chevron, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Pioneer Natural Resources, and Shell were asked to testify at the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on price gouging on April 6.

The seven oil companies in attendance reported more than $71.2 billion in profits in 2021 and used over $38 billion of those record profits on shareholder dividends and over $8 billion on stock buybacks, according to Accountable.US.

"At a time when gasoline in America is now at a near-record high at $4.17 a gallon, guess what?" Bernie Sanders said in early April. "ExxonMobil reported that its profit from pumping oil and gas alone in the first quarter will likely hit a record high of $9.3 billion."

While the price of crude oil has fallen nearly 20% from March, gas prices have remained steadily high—causing financial challenges for many Americans.

American Petroleum Institute spokesperson Bethany Williams responded to price gouging claims by telling CNN, "This is an industry of price takers, not price makers, and countless investigations throughout history have shown that changes in gasoline prices are based on market factors."

An April analysis from BailoutWatch, Friends of the Earth, and Public Citizen revealed how Big Oil has exploited various crises over the past year—including Russia's war on Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the global climate emergency—to vastly enrich shareholder profits in the form of dividends and buybacks.

New York's price-gouging statute grants authorities wide-ranging power to investigate oil supply chains, and according to the attorney general's website, state law bans "unconscionably excessive" prices, including both "unconscionably extreme" prices and prices set through "unfair leverage or unconscionable means."

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