Under The Dome

Jones pushes for feds to curb oil speculation

March 14, 2011 

GOP congressman Walter Jones of Farmville is asking federal regulators to curb excessive oil speculation by establishing position limits in oil, energy and other commodity markets.

In a letter to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission members, Jones asks that it establish the limits as it was required to do by January under a new consumer protection law passed by Congress last summer.

"While there are many reasons for the recent spike in oil prices including the Federal Reserve's $2 million money printing operation known as 'quantitative easing,' unrest in the Middle East, and a lack of investment in domestic production, most oil market experts agree that excessive, unnecessary speculation by Wall Street traders is part of the problem," Jones wrote.

Jones wrote that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required the commission to set position limits by Jan. 17. But Jones cited news reports that they would not be set before 2012.

"Further delay by the commission leaves consumers and markets exposed to manipulation at a time when this nation can least afford it," Jones wrote.

Cigarette tax gambit

Legislators plan to introduce a bill supported by health groups to increase the cigarette tax by $1 a pack, even though its backers know it probably won't go far.

"I know they're not likely to do it, but I wish they would," said Sen. Bill Purcell, a Laurinburg Democrat.

Republican legislative leaders say they don't want to raise taxes this year. Senate leader Phil Berger said a few weeks ago that new-tax prohibition extends to increases on tobacco and alcohol.

But tobacco tax-increase supporters are going to try anyway. They'll have a news conference Tuesday to talk about how raising the tax to $1.45 a pack would bring in about $300 million, prevent teenagers from starting to smoke, and curtail adult smoking. "It's a health issue," said Purcell, a medical doctor.

The N.C. Alliance for Health, a coalition that includes the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, is pushing the bill. The state last raised the cigarette tax two years ago, when it went up 10 cents a pack. The state still has among the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation.

Hagan's numbers go up

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan's popularity has improved to the point where her approval rating is roughly equal to her disapproval rating.

Hagan's approval rating is 39 percent, with 38 percent disapproval, according to a new survey by the Public Policy Polling, a Democratic leaning firm in Raleigh.

This was the first time since March 2009, shortly after she took office, that Hagan's polling numbers have been in positive territory. She has made particular strides among independent voters, according to the survey.

Her Republican colleague Richard Burr has a 40 percent approval rating and a 33 percent disapproval rating, according to the firm.

Pollster Tom Jensen attributed Hagan's improved standing to some more conservative positions she has taken, such as opposition to the Dream Act, which would provide legal residency to certain illegal immigrants if they graduate from high school and demonstrate good moral character.

The survey of 650 voters was taken Feb. 16-21 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Compiled by staff writers Rob Christensen and Lynn Bonner

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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