Castro bill aims to stop price gouging in emergencies

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Eight months after February's winter storms left millions of Texans without power, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) introduced a measure Wednesday to stop price gouging in future disasters.

The big picture: The measure, known as the Gas Consumer Emergency Market Protection Act, would impose natural gas trading limits during national emergencies.

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The bill would:

  • Direct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to investigate the beneficiaries of price hikes during Winter Storm Uri and make recommendations to Congress.

  • Direct the CFTC to implement trade ceilings during emergencies.

  • Establish a federal fine for entities that unfairly hike prices during emergencies.

What they're saying: Castro says the bill will put "safeguards" in place to prevent entities from price gouging Americans in an emergency.

  • "While Texas families faced life or death situations and struggled to stay warm amid freezing temperatures, natural gas sellers raked-in over $10 billion in profits by raising prices as much as 10,000-percent," he said in a statement.

Flashback: At least 200 Texans died during Winter Storm Uri, which led to $300 billion in economic damages.

  • Yet, the natural gas market spiked more than 10,000%, and consumers were strapped with massive bills.

  • Nearly 2,000 Texans filed price gouging complaints to the state attorney general after the February freeze, and companies like BP, Kinder Morgan and Energy Transfer made billions by selling gas and power during the storm.

The Texas Legislature passed measures to weatherize power generators and transmission lines, create an emergency warning system and allow natural gas and electric cooperatives to seek billions of dollars in rate-payer backed bonds to stabilize the state's energy market.

The state's plan failed to help consumers strapped with sizable bills, instead offering the bond plan that's likely to raise most Texans' power bills by a few dollars each month to help cover companies' financial losses.

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