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WASHINGTON: US Democrats announced legislation Thursday to punish fuel companies they accuse of unfairly raising prices at the pump, as record inflation threatens the party’s prospects in November’s midterm elections.

The reforms would allow regulators to impose heavy fines on companies exploiting the war in Ukraine and a pandemic-related surge in crude prices to cash in at the expense of American motorists.

“At this time of war — at any time — there is no excuse for Big Oil companies to profiteer, to price gouge or exploit families,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a news conference.

“That is why Democrats are moving forward with forceful action that will stop, and hold accountable, oil and gas companies for profiteering and manipulating markets.”

The push comes with gasoline prices skyrocketing from an average of $2.89 a gallon a year ago to $4.14, according to AAA data published Thursday.

The Democrats’ proposals would give the Federal Trade Commission and individual states increased authority to go after businesses that manipulate prices in both wholesale and retail sales.

They are hoping to pass legislation before the end of May but would need support from Senate Republicans, who are pressing instead for hikes in domestic fossil fuel production. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone said however that oil giants were “ripping off the American people” by suppressing production to maximize profits.

Maria Cantwell, Pallone’s counterpart in the Senate, said elevated pump prices were driving inflation — which is at a 40-year high — and threatening the post-pandemic recovery.

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