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House Bill Bolsters CFTC Oversight of Manipulation in Gas Markets

The House Agriculture Committee Wednesday voted out legislation that reauthorizes the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and, among other things, augments the agency's oversight of the natural gas market.

The bill authorizes appropriations for the CFTC through fiscal year 2010, and includes a provision, offered by Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), that expands the authority of the agency to "detect and deter" manipulation and attempted manipulation in gas markets, increases the reporting and record-keeping burden for people who operate on exchanges and raises the penalties for civil and criminal violations in most cases to $1 million per violation.

The bill was scheduled to be introduced on the House floor late Thursday, and the expectation is that the House will take it up before it leaves for the year, said committee spokeswoman Alise Kowalski.

"In the event of a significant and highly unusual change in the settlement of any physically delivered natural gas futures contract traded on a contract market ...or derivatives transaction facility," the measure requires the CFTC to "conduct a review of the factors that cause the price movement in order to determine if manipulation or attempted manipulation in violation of [the Commodity Exchange Act] occurred."

The bill further directs the CFTC to require "any person holding, maintaining or controlling any position in a contract of sale of natural gas for future delivery, or option thereof, on or subject to the rules of any contract market or derivatives transaction execution facility, at or in excess of such limits as the Commission may specify, to maintain for a period of five years and provide on request to the Commission, records of the person regarding the position and any related contract, agreement or transaction in natural gas to which the person is party."

In addition, the committee bill raises the maximum civil and criminal penalty for manipulation or attempted manipulation to $1 million per violation in most cases, or triple the monetary gain to the person for each violation. It also raises the maximum prison sentence for violations to 10 years.

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