U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, filed a bill Wednesday that aims to contain skyrocketing natural gas prices during disasters such as the catastrophic winter storm that gripped Texas in February.
Co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, the legislation would establish a "circuit breaker" by imposing natural gas trading limits during such emergencies. It also would set up fines for gas-related businesses that engage in price gouging.
Further, the bill would open a federal inquiry into which companies raked in billions while Texans endured days without power during February's freeze. Amid violent price fluctuations, gas traders, pipelines and other businesses reaped $11.1 billion over the five-day crisis, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis.
“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%," Castro said in an emailed statement. "This bill will identify those who have unfairly profited from the Texas winter storm and put in place safeguards to prevent any future entity from price gouging Americans during an emergency. Texans in need should not pay for the greed of oil and gas corporations trying to profit off of their misery."
Castro filed the bill as CPS Energy, San Antonio's municipally owned utility, struggles to deal with more than $1 billion in energy expenses incurred during the storm. While the utility is pursuing lawsuits against natural gas suppliers it accuses of overcharging, it also expects to pass on $450 million of the total to ratepayers.
In emailed statements, CPS CEO Paula Gold-Williams threw her support behind Castro's measure, as did groups representing power utilities.
“While our friends and neighbors across Texas struggled together to withstand an unprecedented challenge, certain natural gas suppliers were busy making profits at the public’s expense," said Gold-Williams, who announced plans to resign early next year. "Such behavior is wrong and must be stopped."
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