A government watchdog group is sounding an alarm over concerns that the Federal Trade Commission, under pressure from President Biden and his Democratic allies, is conducting a secret probe into whether oil companies are manipulating prices.
The Functional Government Initiative, a nonprofit transparency organization, will file a lawsuit this week against the FTC over its refusal to turn over public records on whether such an investigation is underway, The Washington Times has learned.
“If the government really is using its resources to investigate and punish energy producers rather than incentivize them to ease Americans’ pain at the pump, the public deserves to know,” FGI spokesman Peter McGinnis said in a statement.
The FTC declined to comment, saying in an email that it “does not comment on or disclose the existence of investigations.”
As prices at the pump began to steadily rise toward the end of last year, Mr. Biden in November 2021 implored the FTC to investigate if the oil and natural gas industry was manipulating markets.
The watchdog group’s public records request under the Freedom of Information Act about communications with the White House was denied by the FTC in March under the law’s deliberative and pre-decisional process privilege, one of the most common reasons used by government entities to issue blanket rejections.
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FGI’s appeal of the denial was successful and the group was told by the FTC in April that the request was being processed. However, the public records are yet to be turned over, prompting the impending litigation. FGI believes the refusal to disclose the documents could mean there are active discussions to initiate a probe or that one is already underway.
Mr. Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill have blamed the record spike in energy prices on price gouging. Legislation that would compel an FTC investigation passed the Democratic-led House last month but lacks the bipartisan support needed to advance in the 50-50 split Senate.
Previous government probes into gas price gouging allegations have failed to uncover the sort of industry-wide plot to rip off American consumers that Democrats have alleged.
Energy analysts have attributed record fuel costs to demand that has far outpaced supply coming out of the pandemic and a global shortage that’s been exacerbated by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Oil executives have highlighted the same issues but added that energy policy uncertainty from the Biden administration’s clean energy agenda has added to supply woes.