Cantwell, Murray right to put pressure on oil speculation

DRIVERS emptying their wallets to fill up the tank should know that skyrocketing gas prices are due in part to out-of-control betting by big investors.

Washington drivers, now paying an average of $3.93 per gallon, could soon breathe a collective sigh of relief. U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington have called on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, CFTC, to immediately impose regulations on oil speculation.

The senators and President Obama acknowledged last week that speculators are driving gas prices far beyond supply and demand. Limits on speculation would keep big investors, with no underlying commercial interest in crude oil, from holding too large a share of the market.

While uprisings in the Middle East and the disaster in Japan played a role in escalating gas prices, the market has already adjusted to these events, according to CFTC Commissioner Burt Chilton. Meanwhile, prices at gas stations go up.

Indeed, oil speculation — meaning the amount of barrels held by speculators — has increased dramatically since June 2008, the last time gas was this expensive. Excessive speculation is estimated to be adding several dollars to the cost of filling up.

Speculators are making bets at the expense of consumers. Extra dollars spent at the pump make a big difference to families already balancing tight budgets.

The Wall Street Reform Act, passed by Congress last July, required the CFTC to create regulations preventing excessive speculation within 180 days — a deadline it failed to meet three months ago.

Regulations on oil speculation could bring prices down within days.

The CTFC must not waste more time. Rising gas prices could put the brakes on economic growth — erasing recent signs of recovery.

Excessive oil speculation is hurting businesses and families who keep the economy afloat. Cantwell and Murray should keep turning up the heat until the right regulations are enacted.