July 18, 2008 in Nation/World

Cantwell stalls nominations to market regulatory agency

By Les Blumenthal McClatchy

What it does

Congress created the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in 1974 as an independent agency with the mandate to regulate commodity futures and option markets. The CFTC consists of five commissioners appointed by the president and subject to confirmation by the Senate.

WASHINGTON – A U.S. senator has blocked three nominations to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, saying that the federal agency has failed to regulate oil markets even as the price of gas hits new highs almost daily.

“I want them to do their job,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Cantwell’s action came as the Senate began debate Thursday on a bill designed to rein in speculation on the markets in which crude oil futures are traded. The senator and others think that speculators have driven up the price of oil and could be responsible for more than $1 of the cost of a gallon of gasoline at the pump.

Though some Republicans are sympathetic to the need to provide tighter control over energy markets, they say that any energy legislation should include lifting the congressional moratorium on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.

Cantwell and most Democrats oppose lifting the offshore-drilling ban. They cite the Department of Energy as saying that offshore oil and gas wells wouldn’t come online for seven to 10 years and the impact on prices would be insignificant.

Cantwell has been one of Capitol Hill’s toughest critics of the CFTC and has been calling for months for tougher regulation of oil and gas markets.

Two of the three nominees already serve on the commission and would be reappointed if they’re confirmed: acting Chairman Walter Lukken, a former general counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee, who’d become the full-time chairman, and Bart Chilton, a former lobbyist for the National Farmers Union.

The third nominee is Scott O’Malia, a former adviser to New Mexico Sen. Domenici, the ranking Republican on the Senate Natural Resources Committee, on oil and gas issues and a one-time executive with Mirant, an Atlanta-based energy company.

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