Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate fossil fuel companies for price fixing in a letter with other senators dated May 30, 2024.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dems Urge DOJ to Prosecute ​Big Oil Price Fixing That 'Harmed Virtually Every American'

"These alleged offenses do not simply enrich corporations; hardworking Americans end up paying the price through higher costs for gas, fuel, and related consumer products," 23 senators wrote in a letter to the DOJ.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday led over 20 Senate Democrats in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate fossil fuel companies for collusion and price fixing, arguing in a letter that the industry could have added as much as $500 in annual fuel costs for every car that an average American household has.

The senators' push follows revelations earlier this month that Scott Sheffield, founder of Pioneer Natural Resources, had allegedly colluded with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to keep oil prices high in recent years. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a complaint as part of its decision to block Sheffield from taking a place on the ExxonMobil board when his company is acquired by the oil giant.

"Pioneer's and its co-conspirators' collusion may have cost the average American household up to $500 per car in increased annual fuel costs—an unwelcome tax that is particularly burdensome for lower-income families. Meanwhile, Western oil majors collectively earned more than $300 billion in profits over the last two years," Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the other senators wrote.

The price fixing may have "materially harmed virtually every American household and business," they also wrote.

The letter follows the release on Tuesday of a video by More Perfect Union, a nonprofit newsroom, examining the alleged price fixing and the impact on American consumers; the video features an interview with FTC Chair Lina Khan.

"This appears to be one of the biggest crimes in modern history," Alec Karakatsanis, a civil rights lawyer, wrote on social media in response to the video, citing the FTC's investigation.

Schumer's letter comes after weeks of analysis and commentary by critics of Big Oil, which began after The Wall Street Journal broke the story on May 1 that the ExxonMobil "megadeal" would be allowed by FTC but Sheffield could not be involved. Organizations including Fossil Free Media and Groundwork Collaborative have called for a DOJ prosecution and other measures, such as a refund for American consumers, which former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich also called for.

Matt Stoller, research director of the American Economic Liberties Project, argued that the FTC's evidence in the Sheffield complaint showed that oil price fixing cost the average American family $3,000 per year—a figure also used by More Perfect Union—and caused 27% of all inflation in 2021.

On May 15, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) also called for a DOJ prosecution during a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee meeting at which Khan testified. Pocan wrote on social media that "jail time should be seriously considered."

The price fixing scandal adds to existing pressure on the DOJ to crack down on Big Oil. Last week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that the DOJ investigate the industry's use of disinformation about climate change and its continued efforts to block a green transition. Whitehouse and Raskin led a three-year, cross-committee probe that culminated in a report issued on April 30.

Whitehouse was also among the 23 senators who signed Thursday's letter regarding price fixing, as were Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

"Corporate malfeasance must be confronted, or it will proliferate," the senators wrote near the end of the letter. "These alleged offenses do not simply enrich corporations; hardworking Americans end up paying the price through higher costs for gas, fuel, and related consumer products."

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