Reporting from Washington — With gasoline prices continuing to soar, 70 members of Congress pushed federal regulators to put a lid on excessive oil speculation.
House and Senate lawmakers — all Democrats, except for one independent — wrote to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, urging the agency to place limits immediately on traders in crude oil markets and take whatever steps necessary to rein in prices at the pump.
"It is one of your primary duties — indeed, perhaps your most important — to ensure that the prices Americans pay for gasoline and heating oil are fair, and that the markets in which prices are discovered operate free from fraud, abuse and manipulation," the lawmakers wrote in a letter Monday.
The effort was organized by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been outspoken about his belief that speculators are driving up the price of gasoline.
The 2010 financial reform law mandated that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission put position limits on contracts for crude oil, heating oil and numerous other commodities.
The agency approved restrictions in October, but these have not gone into effect yet, and the lawmakers accused commissioners of dragging their feet.
"Although the CFTC has adopted initial position limits, they are not strong enough and not yet in force, owing to industry opposition, delays in swaps oversight and data collection. This is simply unacceptable and must change," the letter said.
"We have a responsibility to ensure that the price of oil is no longer allowed to be driven up by the same Wall Street speculators who caused the devastating recession that working families are now experiencing."
The lawmakers said it was clear that "excessive oil speculation significantly increases oil and gas prices." But some analysts have said that the issue is not so clear and that speculation might not have much of an effect.