This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on March 10, 2022. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
With gas prices surging even higher in the wake of the White House’s new prohibition on US imports of Russian fossil fuels, progressive lawmakers on Wednesday night called on Congress to swiftly pass legislation to prevent Big Oil from further price-gouging, ramp up investments in a clean energy transition, and raise wages and lower the costs of necessities for working households.
After President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that Russian oil, gas, and coal will no longer be accepted at US ports due to Moscow’s deadly assault on Ukraine—a move that the House endorsed the following day by approving the Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act in a 414-17 landslide—average prices at the pump soared to $4.25 a gallon. Given that the UK and the EU have also taken steps to restrict imports of Russian oil and gas, fossil fuel executives are reportedly salivating at the prospect of long-lasting cost increases amid the war.
In response, Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Barbara Lee, chair of the CPC’s Peace and Security Taskforce, echoed Biden, who stressed that this is “no time for profiteering or price-gouging.”
“Big Oil must not be allowed to shamelessly use a crisis to raise the prices of goods and services most in need,” Jayapal and Lee said in a statement. “Fortunately, Congress has the tools to respond: we urge our colleagues to quickly move forward an expanded version of Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Covid-19 Price-Gouging Prevention Act to include gas and energy prices, prohibiting corporations’ ability to squeeze families.”
Even before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale military attack on Ukraine and provoked a crackdown on his country’s vast fossil fuel industry, the world’s biggest oil and gas corporations were making a killing at the pump, with two dozen companies raking in a combined $174 billion in profits during the first nine months of 2021.
Earlier this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders denounced the “unprecedented corporate greed” of Big Oil companies and said that they cannot be allowed “to take advantage of the war in Ukraine and inflation to make huge profits by jacking up gas prices.”
“We need a windfall profits tax,” he added, repeating a call he made last month.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday that “Putin’s war is causing gas prices to rise, but this is no excuse for large oil companies to pad their bottom line with war-fueled profits.”
“Senate Democrats are watching closely,” she said, “and already working on a windfall profits tax.”
Jayapal and Lee, meanwhile, continued: “Now more than ever, we can see why it is so essential to double down on our transition to renewable energy and not be reliant on dictators for our energy needs. We applaud the president’s call for investing in renewable energy, not only to keep gas prices down, but also to increase America’s manufacturing power, and deny countries like Russia the means to leverage fossil fuel exports against other countries as it carries out wars of aggression.”
“The House-passed climate agenda—investments in electric vehicles powered by clean energy, tax credits to winterize homes, and more—will save families hundreds of dollars in utility bills, protect working people from unpredictable price swings in a volatile global energy market, and keep us on the path to meet President Biden’s goal of halving American carbon emissions by 2030,” said Jayapal and Lee.
“We simply cannot drill or burn our way to that goal—and forgoing it in the name of short-term energy independence would cause irrevocable climate damage,” they added.
Referring again to the House-passed Build Back Better reconciliation package that is being held hostage by corporate-backed Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Jayapal and Lee called for moving immediately “to raise wages and lower other costs for American families, including prescription drug prices, child care, and elder care”—while also imploring Biden to exercise his executive authority to the fullest possible extent to improve the lives of working people.
In addition, the progressive lawmakers urged the Biden administration to link the U.S. boycott of Russian petroleum products and other economic sanctions “to a clear diplomatic process for de-escalating the conflict, and incentivizing a ceasefire that includes a Russian military withdrawal from Ukraine.”
“We can, and must, hold Russia accountable while ensuring that our planet, our communities, and their economic security do not pay the price for Putin’s invasion,” said Jayapal and Lee. “This is the moment to take decisive action that protects all three.”