Sky-high gas prices hit California drivers in the spring, summer and fall of 2022, before retreating to more normal levels in winter, after the midterm elections. (QuietWord/Adobe Stock)

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By Suzanne Potter

March 22, 2023   

California lawmakers hold a hearing in Sacramento today on a bill to hold oil companies and gasoline refiners accountable for alleged price gouging.

According to the Office of Gov. Gavin Newsom, gas prices in California hit an average of $6.42 per gallon last fall, which was $2.61 more than the national average. And it happened even as crude oil prices dropped and state taxes and fees remained unchanged.

Farrah Khan, mayor of Irvine, said she supports Senate Bill 2, which would establish an independent watchdog within the California Energy Commission.

“It’s going to establish a new division to provide independent oversight and analysis of the market,” Khan explained. “This new division would have the power to subpoena information deemed necessary to root out and address any of the abuses of market power.”

The Western States Petroleum Association said in a statement, “This new windfall penalty in this proposal is actually worse than the original bill. The Legislature would be giving away all its authority to a group of unelected bureaucrats who will have the power to set gasoline prices and impact fuels markets. [This] will likely lead to the same unintended consequences as his initial proposal – less investment, less supply, and higher gasoline prices for Californians.”

Steven Hernandez, mayor of Coachella, said it is a matter of fairness to the families who live paycheck to paycheck.

“People struggle to afford gas and rent, and to pay medical expenses,” Hernandez pointed out. “When we’re mindful of the working class, I think we’re better off as a society.”

The California Energy Commission watchdog would analyze data to look for patterns of misconduct or price manipulation. The bill would also start a rule-making process at the Commission, to set a reasonable profit margin and impose a penalty for price-gouging above the margin. Any fines would be returned to taxpayers.