Task force follies

By Susie

The Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin has a pointed piece about the Obama administration’s inaction on potential speculation in the energy market. Talk is cheap – and it’s costing us quite a bit at the gas pump. I get the distinct impression that the president thinks enforcing any regulations at all, for anybody, will stall the recovery and cost him his reelection:

The topic of gas prices came up at Obama’s press conference on Tuesday after a Fox News reporter asked if the president was on purpose driving up gas prices to wean Americans off fossil fuels. “Just from a political perspective, do you think the president of the United States going into reelection wants gas prices to go up higher?” he asked, with a laugh. “Is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?”

Obama said there is “no silver bullet” to lowering high gas prices. Rather, he said, he endorsed an “all of the above strategy,” that includes increased domestic production, energy conservation and the development of renewable energy.

His plans also involve “making sure that my attorney general is paying attention to potential speculation in the oil markets,” Obama said. To that end, he said, “I’ve asked him to reconstitute a task force that’s examining that.”

But it wasn’t an investigative task force. Its job was to “monitor oil and gas markets” for potential violations of criminal or civil law. Even that might have helped — but, as one expert from Public Citizen points out, the task force wasn’t doing anything.

At the time Holder promised, “if illegal conduct is responsible for increasing gas prices, state and federal authorities should take swift action.” Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program for consumer group Public Citizen, said the Obama administration “isn’t reconstituting this task force because this task force wasn’t even meeting in the first place.”

“He’s probably reminding Holder to remind people that they’re on the task force and that perhaps the task force should think about meeting at some point,” Slocum said. “It kind of shows that this is a bit of a farce.”

Slocum also noted that several agencies theoretically represented on the task force already have unilateral authority to investigate speculation. “It’s our opinion that none of them are doing it.”

The fact that speculation contributes to high gas prices is hardly a radical idea.

No less an authority than Exxon Mobil’s chairman, Rex Tillerson, has acknowledged that Wall Street trading has at times been responsible for driving up prices by $30 to $40 a barrel.