September 19, 2006

Wyden Presses for Lower Gas Prices at Hearing for Federal Trade Nominee

Senator says he'll continue to block nomination of Majoras as FTC chair until plan of action to help consumers is made clear, recusal issues are clarified

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today indicated that he will continue to block the nomination of Deborah Majoras to head the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), after Majoras failed to offer concrete commitments at her confirmation hearing as to how she would lead the agency to fight high gasoline prices. Wyden has long called on the FTC to stop oil company mergers, refinery closures and anti-competitive gasoline marketing practices that have been proven to drive prices up for American consumers, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. He announced a "hold" on Majoras' nomination in May when the nominee gave no indication that the FTC's years of inaction on high gasoline prices would end under her leadership. Majoras has also been unable to answer whether her previous dealings with the oil companies Chevron and Texaco in the private sector would force her to recuse herself from oil pricing issues as FTC chair, essentially leaving the Commission without leadership as those issues are considered. "I wanted to hear from Ms. Majoras at today's hearing whether anything would change if she's confirmed to head the FTC or if it's just going to be inaction as usual while consumers are gouged at the gas pump," said Wyden. "She still can't tell me how she'll get this agency off the sidelines and in the fight to protect American consumers or even whether she can participate, and I am determined to force a change from the top down in the way this agency deals with high gasoline prices." At the hearing, Wyden asked Majoras again what she would change at the FTC to better respond to high gasoline prices; how the agency would respond to a new General Accounting Office report showing that oil company mergers allowed by the FTC have contributed to gasoline price increases; whether the FTC should act to stop the shutdown of the 70,000 barrel-per-day Shell refinery at Bakersfield, Calif.; and whether she would request new powers for the FTC to fight oligopoly control of major gasoline markets by just a few oil companies. In every case, Majoras said she would be willing to act but would not outline specific steps, which is precisely the FTC response that has led to little or no pro-consumer action on gasoline prices in recent years. Before a face-to-face meeting with Majoras last month, Wyden submitted a letter detailing his concerns about the FTC's inaction on oil and gasoline issues and asking whether Majoras would lead the agency to respond. During their meeting, Wyden also received no assurances from Majoras that the agency would change its policy of inaction to protect consumers. "Whenever Ms. Majoras is ready to tell me how she will stand up for my constituents and all Americans to fight these outrageous gasoline prices, my door is open," said Wyden. "But I need to hear more convincing evidence that she will change the FTC's policy to start bringing these prices down." As a matter of policy, Wyden publicly announces any "hold" he places on nominees or legislation. Wyden has led efforts to end the practice of "secret holds" in the U.S. Senate. He placed a statement in the Congressional Record on May 19 indicating his intention to hold the Majoras nomination.