Oil prices rose to about $68 a barrel in early trading on Monday, hitting a new high for the year. The price is up more than 70 percent since mid-January.

The increased price of oil and gas already is causing severe financial hardship for American families, truckers, small business, airlines and farmers, and it’s putting enormous strain on an economy already in a deep recession.

While prices have gone down from their historic highs of last summer, there is mounting evidence that excessive speculation is the causing the run-up in oil prices. Supply is now at an all-time high. Demand is lower than it's been in the last 10 years. Demand down. Supply up. What are we seeing? Soaring oil prices. That is just absolutely unfair to the people going to the gas pump today, and it is very frightening in terms of what happens next winter in New England.

So I sent a letter [pdf here] on Thursday to Gary Gensler, the new chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. I urged him to seize this opportunity to redefine the CFTC as a strong regulator that will do everything within its power to benefit consumers. The commission should use its emergency powers, which include the authority to limit the number of oil futures contracts a trader can control, boost margin requirements and suspend trading altogether in some cases.

A strong commission would be a welcome change. The failure of the CFTC to take steps to limit speculation was one of the contributing factors to the current financial crisis, and played a significant role in precipitating not only the present economic recession, but also the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world.

It’s time to act now because what we are looking at is not the fundamentals of the economy. What we are looking at is speculation on Wall Street.