Deborah P. Majoras, President Bush's nominee to head the Federal Trade Commission, said yesterday that she is committed to taking action against any oil company the agency finds driving up gasoline prices through anticompetitive conduct.
Responding to senators' concerns during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Majoras promised to appoint a special energy counsel, examine why there is no major new investment in refining capacity and look at the reasons behind planned refinery closings.
The nominee, an antitrust lawyer in private practice, said she may have to recuse herself from some oil issues because she has represented ChevronTexaco Corp.
Majoras's answers did little to satisfy Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who said he would continue to block her nomination until she offers a plan to make the agency more active in policing gasoline prices. He said the nominee's answers were the same "business as usual, textbook case of continuing agency inaction" that the FTC has followed under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Wyden cited the agency's repeated approval of oil mergers and its reluctance to explore the shortage of refining capacity in saying the FTC is partly to blame for rising fuel prices.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she will also place a hold on the nomination because of Majoras's oil industry client. "This is kind of a bombshell," said Boxer, who is pressing for an investigation of Shell Oil Co.'s plan to close its Bakersfield, Calif., refinery, which it jointly operated with Texaco until 2001 when Texaco merged with Chevron.
Majoras would replace Timothy J. Muris, who is leaving this summer.