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Schumer asks Justice for oil price-fixing probe

May 30, 2024
Photo illustration of Chuck Schumer, the US Capitol building and Earth.

Photo Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer formally asked the Justice Department to investigate oil companies for alleged price fixing.

Why it matters: Schumer's involvement adds weight to the allegations that Hill Democrats have bandied about in recent weeks and portends broader action should the party win in November.

Driving the news: Schumer and 22 other senators — 21 Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders — today asked DOJ to examine whether companies across the industry illegally colluded to keep fuel costs high.

  • The majority leader had indicated last week that Democrats would make such a move.
  • The senators pointed to the Federal Trade Commission's allegation that former Pioneer CEO Scott Sheffield colluded with OPEC to raise prices, which came as part of a deal that allowed Exxon's $60 billion acquisition of Pioneer.
  • "These reports are alarming and lend credence to the fear that corporate avarice is keeping prices artificially high," Democrats wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The other side: Sheffield says the FTC "unjustly smeared" him.

  • "Its case is built on a false narrative about these statements and a farfetched interpretation of the applicable statutes," his lawyers wrote in a federal filing yesterday.
  • American Petroleum Institute spokesperson Andrea Woods also has dismissed a new Senate committee investigation into oil companies as a political stunt.

Quick take: As we noted earlier, these election-year probes might be limited because DOJ simply might not take up this request.

  • On the Hill, much depends on political shelf life — whether Democrats keep pushing on this once summer gas prices settle and the election passes.

Those signing the letter included outspoken oil industry critics like Sheldon Whitehouse.

  • Among those who didn't sign was Martin Heinrich, a senior member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who has been discussed as a potential top Democrat on the panel next year.
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