Cantwell: Won’t Support FTC Nominee Who Doesn’t Aggressively Police Oil Market Manipulation

Cantwell: ‘I’m not going to support anybody to be on the FTC that isn’t going to help in implementing this new law… Consumers deserve protection.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today during a Senate Commerce Committee nominations hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said she won’t support any Federal Trade Commission (FTC) nominee who is not committed to enforcing the 2007 law she authored that gives the FTC the authority and responsibility to protect consumers from oil market manipulation.

Cantwell’s statement comes on the heels of a letter last week from six West Coast senators to the Department of Justice urging the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group to investigate whether market manipulation or false reporting by oil refineries contributed to near-record gas prices in Western states this year. Cantwell has previously urged the FTC to take a more aggressive role in policing potential oil market manipulation.

During questioning of FTC nominee Dr. Joshua D. Wright, Cantwell compared the FTC’s
policing to that of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), calling the FTC’s actions “not aggressive enough.” FERC has had the same authority over the natural gas and electricity markets since 2005, but has successfully prosecuted dozens more bad actors.

“We have given the FTC the ability to police oil markets for anti-manipulation
Cantwell said to Wright. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has had this authority as it relates to electricity and natural gas markets and it has used that authority I believe appropriately. The FTC has more recently had this authority it took until I think 2009 to get the rule-making. I want to understand whether you are solidly behind the use of…that statute and how you see it being implemented.”

Dr. Wright responded: “I believe that protecting consumers in oil and gas markets is very important. This is one of the markets that affects everybody
and affects everybody in an important way. I can commit to you that where there are violations of the rule I will support enforcing the law.”

Cantwell responded: “This will be a very critical and important element of my
deciding about your nomination. I don’t think the FTC is being aggressive enough and I’m sure as not going to support anybody to be on the FTC that isn’t going to help in implementing this new law in an area where consumers deserve protection.”

Watch a video of Cantwell’s exchange with Dr. Wright.

In the aftermath of Enron’s schemes that cost Washington ratepayers billions, Cantwell authored an amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that strengthened the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) authority to investigate and punish energy market manipulation. In 2007, Cantwell gave parallel anti-market manipulation authority to the Federal Trade Commission.

As of October 2012, FERC has used its 2005 anti-manipulation authority to conduct 107 investigations resulting in 52 settlements and civil penalties of $294 million and disgorgement of profits totaling $155 million. Cantwell is calling on the FTC to be more aggressive in going after bad actors and enforcing its new policing authority.

Also during today’s nominations hearing, Cantwell expressed her concern about a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) draft order on media ownership that could further increase media consolidation.

“[I] feel very strongly that the Commission may be heading towards a resolution of disapproval by Congress if it continues down this route,” Cantwell said today to Mignon L. Clyburn, the FCC Commissioner up for reappointment. “This is not the Rupert Murdoch view of the world. We are saying that if you want to have an independent media they need to be independent, not consolidated. And so we will be loud and boisterous about what the Commission is intending to do if it continues to follow this path.”

Last week, Cantwell sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and his fellow Commissioners urging a public vote on the draft order. In the letter sent November 29, Cantwell expressed disappointment that discussion on the draft order with the potential to ease media ownership rules was taking place behind closed doors. She also pointed out in her letter that the draft order was reportedly similar to previous FCC attempts that would have enabled large media companies to more easily own a daily newspaper and operate a television or radio station in the same market.

This past May at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Cantwell urged Chairman Genachowski to reconsider the FCC’s proposed rules on media ownership. Previously, in December 2011, Cantwell expressed disapproval with an FCC vote to move forward with this proposed rulemaking.

According to press reports, the draft proposal is similar to a 2007 proposal to ease media ownership rules under the Bush administration and former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. On May 15, 2008, the Senate passed the Resolution of Disapproval of those rules – co-sponsored by Cantwell and then-Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In the end, the FCC was unsuccessful in enacting new rules. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals remanded Martin’s rules back to the Commission as a result of legal challenges by public-interest groups.