Specter, Kohl introduce antitrust reform bill

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 7 -- Senate Judiciary Committee leaders and members introduced an antitrust reform bill Apr. 6 that is directed at US oil and gas companies and overseas producers.

The bill, cosponsored by committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and member Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), would require federal antitrust regulators to consider whether future oil company mergers need closer scrutiny.

It also would make it possible for members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to be sued for conspiring to control crude oil output and fix prices.

The provision, known as "No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels" (NOPEC), has emerged as a separate bill the past few congressional sessions from the Judiciary Committee's antitrust, competition, and consumer rights subcommittee.

It cleared the committee three times and was approved by the full Senate in 2005 but did not make it past negotiations with the House and the administration of President George W. Bush.

The bill also would establish a joint federal-state task force to examine if information shared between oil companies has contributed to anticompetitive pricing. The legislation also would make it illegal for oil and gas producers to withhold supplies to drive up prices.

Specter said the legislation is needed as US motorists face the prospect of having to pay $3/gal for gasoline this summer. The committee held hearings on Feb. 1 and Mar. 14 to examine whether there was a link between oil industry consolidation and higher prices.

"Over 2,600 mergers have occurred in the US petroleum industry since the 1990s, including transactions involving the largest oil and gas companies in the nation. With the high fuel prices the American consumer is enduring, it is time for an examination of what oil and gas industry consolidations have done to prices," Specter said.

"This legislation takes a firm stand in an attempt to protect the American consumer from enormous increases in gasoline prices and oil prices," he maintained.

Cosponsors include Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chief minority member; Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), chairman of the committee's antitrust, business rights, and competition subcommittee; and members Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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