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US House passes bill to combat gasoline price gouging

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] has passed a bill that, under the Federal Trade Commission Act, would impose stiff civil penalties and authorize jail sentences for officials from energy companies that engage in price gouging when selling gasoline or crude oil, by a 389-34 vote [roll call] Wednesday. The Federal Energy Price Protection Act [PDF text; HR 5253 summary] would require the Federal Trade Commission [official website] to define price gouging within six months of the bill's final passage, and under the proposal, fuel refiners, wholesalers and retailers who engage in price gouging will face fines from $2 million to $150 million, the possibility of imprisonment, and increased civil penalties up to three times the amount of profits earned. The bill must be approved by the Senate before it would be sent to the president for signature, but Senate leaders have not indicated when the proposal might be considered.

Another bill pushed by US Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) [official website], chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee [official website], which would simplify the process of obtaining a permit for new oil refineries in the US, failed to meet the two-thirds mark needed for expedited consideration, with a 237-188 vote [roll call] along party lines. Among other proposals to address rising gasoline prices that have been rejected in Congress are a $100 rebate check for all consumers and a federal gasoline tax holiday. Also on Wednesday, President George Bush met with a group of lawmakers from both parties to discuss further measures to combat the $3-per-gallon gasoline prices that would receive bipartisan support. Bush has already suspended [JURIST report] certain rules governing the refining of gasoline. AP has more.

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