Oil companies have been recording massive profits during the pandemic, with last year being the most profitable year in history, according to CBS News. Oil barons have long profited by exploiting consumers and have an extensive record of hiding the effects of climate change and global warming. These companies apparently “lost profits” during the first year of the pandemic and then recovered losses by gouging customers. To excuse their actions, they claimed oil has been increasingly depleted.
In 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act. This bill was read by the Senate but failed to make it through committee. It would make price hikes unlawful and allow federal authorities to investigate price gouging.
Oil executives will defend this price gouging — no surprise there. They already have, according to NPR. Of course, any company or corporation needs to make profit, even in socialist countries. But what separates our country from other countries, like many in Europe, is the lack of any meaningful regulations for the oil industry. The oil executives will defend what they “need to do” in order to remain profitable, including gouging customers after temporary losses in the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is also the matter of the 9,000 approved government permits for drilling. And still they keep asking for more.
Oil CEOs also bragged about the $76 billion that they made in profit in 2021. Additionally, NPR reported that the CEOs from ExxonMobil, Chevron and other firms said that they “aren’t responsible for prices.” So, apparently this is just a market, and apparently they aren’t gouging in any way. This is happening in the same breath as them bragging about profits, in some cases even record-setting ones. And even if we believed them, oil corporations have a very exploitative past.
Oil companies have a history of exploiting corruption, bribery and violence in order to protect their empires. A good example of when this really started in U.S. politics is the Teapot Dome Scandal. Under President William Howard Taft, our government started setting aside federal lands believed to hold oil as emergency reserves. Warren G. Harding became our next president, backed by oilmen to whom he had promised he would install an oil-friendly cabinet. The scandals involved a murder-suicide, along with Big Oil essentially buying the White House. Harding also paid off the Denver Post Publisher during his scandals, and his cabinet was rife with corruption and came to be known as the “Ohio Gang.” This history goes to show the roots of how Big Oil got its claws in our government, which consumers still feel to this day.
With that track record, how can we expect to believe that they do not gouge prices? That they do not extort consumers at every turn? Eventually only the most wealthy will be able to afford to travel, even as Big Oil keeps trying to block a switch to sustainable renewable resources. California Attorney General Rob Bonta has already announced a lawsuit against oil and gas companies for misleading the public about climate change in California.
So, why do these oil barons manufacture outrage and engage in price-gouging? It’s simple — they have claws in our government officials, and they have made us dependent on them for our fuel. They know that our government will not hold them to account.
So, what can we do? We can educate ourselves and each other and we can hold our officials’ feet to the fire to demand that they do something. We can protest and strike. We can rely on other forms of fuel and transportation as much as possible.
In Seattle, you will notice that gas is over $5 in many places. This is furthering my push for more public transport and light rail. Cheaper for everyone. A city built more around public transport is a more environmentally friendly one. Our public officials have stopped listening to “we the people” and have instead been shelling out to corporate developers and other companies. I was at a tree ordinance meeting this summer, and they flat-out ignored the public’s comments. Oh, besides those belonging to corporate developers. Even if we are not successful, we must be careful of who we put in office and make sure they know we will hold them to account. There have been many strikes, protests and marches downtown this year, due to the Seattle City Council’s continued unresponsiveness.
In the meantime, what ways can those of us who commute to work fight the rising costs from oil and gas conglomerates?
We can take public transport (buses and the light rail), we can bike and we can walk more. You can also unionize your workplace and get the company to pay for gas costs. Because if your company is pissed about having to pay more, you will either be allowed to work from home or they will pay higher costs for you to come in. I have heard the phrase in my line of work many times that these corporations “socialize the losses and privatize the profits.” Meaning that these oil corporations will make us share the cost of them losing profit, but when they get more profitable, they get to keep it all. This needs to stop. It’s time we make the corporations suffer the consquences of their greed and eat the cost.
Cedar Bushue is a pro-union, pro-people writer who believes in people over profit. More of his writing can be found at linktr.ee/cedarbushue.
Read more of the Oct. 18-24, 2023 issue.