Commodity market speculators supplant major oil company CEOs as the bad guys in 2008

Heating up: Congressional initiatives to regulate energy commodity markets more closely. Cooling off: Bringing back the windfall profits tax.

Heating up: Congressional initiatives to regulate energy commodity markets more closely. The energy market speculator has supplanted the major oil company chief executive as this election year's chief villain and a growing number of House and Senate members are lining up behind bills which would require tougher commodity market enforcement by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Congressional success in getting the Bush administration to suspend crude oil purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve while oil is selling at record prices has encouraged commodity markets reform advocates. They also are gaining support from moderates such as the House's Blue Dog Democrats who opposed efforts last year by their party's congressional leaders to pass punitive oil taxes.

Two questions will need to be answered in the next few weeks. The first is whether energy commodity markets reform will be handled separately or as part of a broader package that includes bills aimed at alleged oil price gouging, windfall profits and failure of producers to diligently develop federal leases they already hold. This last element is the Democrats' newest response to growing pressure to increase access to domestic oil and gas resources which are currently off-limits and frankly aims to keep Republicans from gaining ground with voters by November's elections. A longer-term question is whether general support of expanded federal Outer Continental Shelf leasing has grown to a point that federal lawmakers from coastal states in both parties are ready to quit kowtowing to coastal property owners.

Cooling off: Bringing back the windfall profits tax. Voters increasingly blame energy commodity speculators more than major oil company chief executives for soaring prices (see above) and politicians this election year are likelier to go after the futures market players. But the windfall profits tax saucepan is still on the congressional stove and could be brought back if enough politicians who are up for re-election think it will get them the necessary votes. Watch for statements from the House and Senate's majority leaders following the Independence Day recess for an indication of their direction.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

More in Companies