Senate majority asks attorney general to guard against gas price hikes

Senate majority asks attorney general to guard against gas price hikes
Eric Henry gases up his car in Sacramento last year. State lawmakers want to make sure gas prices stay low. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

A majority of the state Senate members wrote to California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Thursday, asking that her office watch to make sure gas prices are not increased without justification by the oil industry to undermine the state's cap-and-trade program.

A provision of a state law that took effect Jan. 1 put fuel distributors into the same cap-and-trade marketplace as utilities and major manufacturers, allowing polluters to buy and sell rights to emit greenhouse gases.  The oil industry has opposed the law, arguing that it could lead to price increases of 12 cents or more per gallon.

Twenty-one Democratic senators, including Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) signed a letter asking for vigilance.

"We are writing to express concern over the potential manipulation of gasoline prices by oil companies and their subsidiaries in the state as our landmark cap-and-trade program goes into effect for transportation fuels," the letter said. "We request that the Department of Justice monitor, and if warranted, open an investigation into these practices."

The letter cites a multimillion-dollar political advocacy campaign by the oil industry, which the lawmakers alleged is aimed to "engender widespread public fear and prevent fuels from coming under the cap and undermine California law."

De León's office warned in a separate statement that the Senate leader and his colleagues "are also prepared to hold oversight hearings if any sort of significant price spikes occur in the near future."

A representative of the Western States Petroleum Assn. was not immediately available to comment on the letter.