Sen. Chuck Schumer, at a Sunday news conference outside a Manhattan...

Sen. Chuck Schumer, at a Sunday news conference outside a Manhattan gas station, holds a copy of a report by advocacy groups that found seven oil company boards had authorized $24.35 billion in stock buybacks in January and February as prices at the pump surged. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Making a key appointment to the Federal Trade Commission will allow the government to take on oil companies that have financially benefited from the war in Ukraine at the expense of consumers, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

With that in mind, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will move the nomination of Alvaro Bedoya as a member of the FTC to the Senate floor for a vote this week and anticipates his confirmation, which would create a 3-2 Democratic majority on the board.

Corporations should be investigated for using war-driven profits to buy back stocks, which raises their value and increases dividends to shareholders, Schumer said. But the FTC, which enforces U.S. consumer protection and antitrust laws, has been blocked from acting by the committee’s two Republicans, he said.

“The bottom line is big oil is pumping out profits while consumers struggle,” Schumer said during a news conference outside a gas station in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. “The new nominee on the FTC can help put a stop to that.”

Schumer referenced an April 5 report from the Washington D.C.-based consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen; the Bay Area environmental group, Friends of the Earth; and the government watchdog, BailoutWatch. The report found that seven oil company boards authorized $24.35 billion in stock buybacks in January and February. The number represents a 15% increase over all buybacks authorized in 2021, according to the report, “Big Oil’s Wartime Bonus: How Big Oil Turns Profit into Wealth.”

Eleven companies also doubled dividends in the first quarter of 2022 compared with the same period last year, the report stated.

The Long Island and national average cost per gallon of gasoline stands at about $4.12 compared with $2.89 a year ago, according to AAA. 

Appointing Bedoya to the FTC will allow the commission to take a look at gas pricing complaints, Schumer said. A representative from the oil industry trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, said previous investigations have shown that changes in gasoline prices are based on the market.

“The price at the pump that Americans are currently paying is a function of increased demand and lagging supply combined with geopolitical turmoil and policy uncertainty from Washington,” said API spokeswoman Bethany Williams.

Last September, President Joe Biden nominated Bedoya to the position. Bedoya, a Georgetown University law professor, has concentrated his work on facial recognition software and surveillance.

“His research and advocacy focus on the idea that privacy is for everyone,” the White House wrote in a Sept. 13 statement announcing Bedoya's nomination. “His exposés on the harms of face recognition technology have helped usher the passage of face recognition restrictions across the country.”

Senate Republicans have criticized Bedoya as being too partisan for the traditionally nonpartisan committee. Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, a ranking member of the Senate commerce committee, speaking on the Senate floor last month, said Bedoya would bring too partisan a viewpoint to the FTC. Wicker cited “divisive social media statements” made by the nominee, including calling for the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Schumer said he does not expect any Republicans to vote in favor of Bedoya’s appointment.

Bedoya's confirmation process was delayed earlier this year when the Senate postponed a committee vote after Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) suffered a stroke. Without Luján, Democrats did not have the necessary votes to pass Bedoya's nomination, but last month, with the senator back in Washington, the process was resumed.

The full Senate voted along party lines — 51-50 — to advance Bedoya's nomination for a full vote on March 30, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaking vote.

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