U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) speaks at the Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on March 22, 2023.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

'Jail Time Should Seriously Be Considered,' Pocan Says of Big Oil Price Fixing

"I would recommend 'Orange Is the New Black,'" said the Wisconsin Democrat. "We're feeling it at the pumps and clearly this kind of behavior, we know, isn't isolated."

As Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan appeared before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Wednesday, Congressman Mark Pocan highlighted recent FTC action against fossil fuel industry price fixing and urged criminal consequences.

"I just did a little napkin math," Pocan (D-Wis.) said. If collusion led to a $0.40-0.60 increase in the price for a gallon of gas for a vehicle, "for the average person filling their tank, that's $8 or $10 a week," he explained. "That's $500 a year of added cost."

If half of the residents in Pocan's congressional district have a car, "that's $175 million a year," he said. If that figure is applied across all 435 districts, it translates to billions of dollars "that we're being gouged because of someone like this who's trying to price collude," he continued, referring to Scott Sheffield, the founder and longtime CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources.

The FTC earlier this month barred Sheffield from serving on the board of directors of or as an adviser to ExxonMobil, which just acquired Pioneer, due to his alleged collusion with the representatives of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and OPEC+.

While welcoming the FTC's move, Pocan noted that "if you commit theft, the average sentence... in the United States is 23 months" and the multibillion-dollar profit that fossil fuel giants make from price gouging "is more than grand larceny theft."

"What else can we do to these oil companies that are ripping us off?" the congressman asked Khan, an appointee of President Joe Biden with "a pro-working families record."

The FTC chair responded that "price fixing and output reduction in a coordinated way can be criminal violations of the antitrust laws. As enforcers we can't specifically speak to what we're referring and what we're not, but as a general matter, it's been a priority of mine to make sure we are referring more criminal candidates to the Justice Department, because we need to make sure companies and executives aren't just treating fines as a cost of doing business and that they take seriously the rule of law."

Referencing a television show that takes place in federal prison, Pocan told her that "I would recommend 'Orange Is the New Black,' if we need to, to make a point. It would be helpful because we're feeling it at the pumps and clearly this kind of behavior, we know, isn't isolated."

Sharing a video of his remarks on social media, Pocan declared: "Unacceptable! A slap on the wrist isn't enough. I think jail time should seriously be considered."

As the American Economic Liberties Project (AELP) pointed out, Pocan wasn't the only lawmaker to reference the recent price fixing revelations during the Wednesday hearing; he was joined by Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

"Finally it's being noticed!" said AELP's Matt Stoller, who has written about the alleged collusion. "Dem House members get it!"

Stoller wasn't alone in welcoming the discussion in Congress—after days of limited attention on the issue among national figures.

"This illegal oil corporation price fixing conspiracy cost Americans as much as $2,100. Per year," saidMore Perfect Union, sharing a video of Pocan and citingThe American Prospect.

The Ohio AFL-CIO stressed: "Greedflation is not inflation. Pass it on."

Noting that Sheffield is getting a $68 million "golden parachute on his way out," former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich argued Wednesday: "That money (and more) should be refunded to the American people. Not sent to his bank account."

Groundwork Collaborative executive director Lindsay Owens similarly said last week that "the Department of Justice should criminally prosecute Scott Sheffield and Congress should tax back the industry's windfall profits and issue every American a refund."

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