Gov. Newsom’s gas plan would hold Big Oil accountable

Exxon collected $6.3 million an hour. Chevron last year doubled its 2021 profits and boasted about “outstanding results” in an earnings call. Valero made nearly 10 times more.

While oil companies were raking it in, Californians were paying for it in record high gas prices — $2.61 per gallon higher than the national average. We were charged those sky-high prices even though the cost of crude oil was down and there were no changes to state taxes, fees or regulations. While we all know that gas has always cost a bit more here than in other states, it’s never been by that much.

In 2022 alone, oil companies hauled in more than $200 billion in profits. If you or I made $98 million a year for 2,000 years, we still wouldn’t make as much as oil companies did last year.

The out-of-control gas prices in California stretched household budgets to the max and forced countless families to choose between things such as putting food on the table or going to the doctor. High fuel costs also inflicted widespread harm throughout our economy and worsened the impacts of inflation. Increased transportation costs to our businesses contributed to inflated food prices, for example, and to higher costs for a wide range of other goods and services in our state.

But enough talk. It’s time to do something about it — that’s why we’re going to hold them accountable.

Consumer protection regulations that safeguard us from greedy industries are a good government tool that can help stabilize our economy and incentivize businesses to be honest brokers.

To push oil companies to treat California consumers fairly, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s special session proposal — which I authored — includes the strongest, most effective transparency and oversight measures in the nation so we can look under the hood and make oil companies answerable for high gas prices. The two houses of the Legislature are expected to vote on the measure as early as this week and next.

Our proposal includes a first-of-its-kind independent watchdog that would monitor California’s petroleum market to ensure the industry plays by the rules. The division would have access to new information required by law, subpoena power to compel data and records that would reveal shady practices, and direction to refer violations of law to the state attorney general for prosecution.

Additionally, this proposal includes a price-gouging penalty that would fine oil companies for making excessive profits off the backs of Californians.

Ideally, the penalty will never be used. Like with other good policy, its existence may motivate oil companies to keep prices down in the first place to avoid being penalized.

To protect their huge profits, oil companies are throwing out the same old scare tactics they’ve been using for years — that if we act to protect Californians, they’ll leave our state or increase prices.

That’s bogus.

Oil companies are not going to suddenly pull up stakes and abandon the fourth-largest economy in the world.

Multiple surveys have shown that two-thirds of Californians support efforts to hold the oil industry accountable, with strong majorities in every region backing our proposal.

Now it’s time to get this done for California. While the oil industry will use its unlimited resources to spread misinformation and try to scare us away from acting, we’re not backing down. Hard-working Californians deserve to be protected against any business that pads its profits at our expense.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, represents the East Bay shoreline from San Leandro to Rodeo.

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