California gas prices

Gas prices of more than $7.00 per gallon are posted at a downtown Los Angeles gas station on March 9, 2022.

(Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

A 'Landmark Victory' for Consumers and Climate as California Passes Big Oil Price Gouging Law

"Whether it's price gouging at the pump or drilling in people's backyards, Big Oil's days of harming our health and our pocketbooks must end," said one advocate.

Climate and consumer advocates on Tuesday hailed California lawmakers' passage of legislation aimed at tackling Big Oil price gouging as the proposal headed to the desk of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said he will sign the measure into law.

The California Assembly voted 52-19 on Monday in favor of S.B. X1-2—authored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-9)—which will empower the California Energy Commission (CEC) to impose profit caps and penalties on refiners and create an intra-agency watchdog tasked with conducting greater oversight of fossil fuel companies to minimize profiteering.

The new law will allow the CEC to levy daily fines of $5,000-$20,000—up to a maximum of $500,000—if a company does not provide the agency with data to determine if it is complying with the legislation. CEC fines are currently capped at $2,000.

Newsom—who is slated to sign the bill into law at 4:30 pm PT on Tuesday—called Monday "a big day for consumers, a big day for Mother Nature, and a big day in this country."

"I'm very, very pleased as a taxpayer, as a Californian, and as an American," he added. "I hope this is a signal to other states."

The law will take effect 90 days after it's signed by Newsom—who has also called for a windfall profits tax on fossil fuel companies.

"This is a landmark victory for California consumers who will soon have the force of a state watchdog with teeth protecting them from gouging at the gas pump," Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said Tuesday.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, asserted that Monday's vote "shows the tide is turning against Big Oil in California."

"Despite the industry spending millions on lobbying, California is now one step closer to protecting working Californians from the oil industry's greed," Siegel continued. "Whether it's price gouging at the pump or drilling in people's backyards, Big Oil's days of harming our health and our pocketbooks must end."

In a statement, Stop the Oil Profiteering (STOP) spokesperson Jamie Henn said that "California wasn't afraid to stand up to Big Oil. It's time for Washington to follow their lead."

"This landmark legislation will give regulators the tools they need to investigate Big Oil's shady business practices and crack down on the price gouging that fueled last year's obscene profits," Henn added. "The public is clamoring for politicians to take on this reckless industry—it's inspiring to see Gov. Newsom answering the call."

Earlier this month, the watchdog Accountable.US published a report revealing that the biggest oil companies operating in the United States raked in a collective $290 billion in profits last year while they "consistently prioritized shareholder returns over alleviating the pressure of high energy prices."

According to the American Automobile Association, California has the nation's highest gasoline prices, with a gallon of regular unleaded averaging $4.82.

"Five California oil refiners made obscene profits last year from astronomical gasoline prices at the pump, hurting working families up and down the state," Shoshana Wexler of the climate group 350 Bay Area Action said in a statement. "The Legislature has passed a bill that would expose the ways this grand heist was carried out and hopefully ensure it never happens again."

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