With the price of a barrel of oil hovering at around $70 and a lot of pissed off voters paying more than three bucks a gallon at the pump, President Bush and his fellow Republicans are practically stumbling over each other as they seek to look tough on big oil and act to bring gas prices down before the November election.But scramble as they may, there is no denying that the Republican majority and the Bush energy plan are bought and paid for by the Oil and Gas industry. According to data published by the Center for Responsive Politics, since 1990, the oil and gas industry has donated $140,870,847 to Republican candidates including the President and leading members of Congress. In the 2000 elections alone, in which George W. Bush was elected President, oil and gas companies gave more than $26 million to Bush and his fellow Republicans. A full 80 percent of oil and gas contributions, more than $20 million, went to Republicans during the 2004 election cycle.It is these same oil and gas companies that are now reaping record profits. Exxon Mobil reported profits of $36.1 billion in 2005 -- the largest-ever annual profit for a U.S. firm. And numerous news reports say that the nation’s three largest oil and gas companies are expected to report combined 2006 first-quarter profits in excess of $16 billion, an increase of almost 20 percent from last year. These three companies, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Chevron Corp. have already given Republican candidates $390,000 to date in the 2006 election cycle.So excuse me if I chuckle a little when I hear Rep. Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee say “ we may need hearings to determine how oil companies invest their profits,” as was reported by the Associated Press. Barton has received $109,450 to date in oil and gas contributions for his current re-election campaign and more than $879,000 in oil and gas contributions since 1994. Barton by the way is the guy who carried the water on the Energy Bill provisions providing oil companies with what the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates as about $10 billion in tax breaks that gas and oil companies will receive over the next five years.I also don’t hold out much hope for rumors of a windfall profits tax being floated by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. and others. According the GOP website, President Bush is already on record saying that he would veto a tax on windfall oil profits. Bush, by the way, received more than $2.5 million in oil and gas contributions during his 2004 re-election campaign.Meanwhile, any meaningful reforms such as increasing mileage standards for vehicles which the Union for Concerned scientists has said is the “single most effective way to curb oil use” has gotten no support from the Bush administration and was stripped from the recent Energy bill.Instead Republican leaders apparently plan to use the current gas price crisis to ease restrictions on oil companies, open protected wilderness areas and circumvent environmental protections safeguarding air and water quality. Their first step is to blame Democrats for failing to vote to open the Alaskan Artic Wilderness refuge to oil drilling and to introduce new legislation to do just that. According to “The Hill” Republican leaders have scheduled a press conference Thursday at which House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) will introduce a legislative package that would include drilling in the refuge. Pombo by the way has received $66,200 in political contributions to date in 2006 from oil and gas interests in support of his current re-election campaign and more than $180,000 since 2000.Never mind that oil analysts say that a shortage of crude oil is not the problem. The effort to tie gas prices to the need to drill in the Alaskan Wilderness Refuge first surfaced in a research-strategy memo developed by the Council of Republican Environmental Advocates (CREA) suggesting that the Bush administration use higher gas prices to promote increased drilling and open the Alaskan National Wilderness Area to oil exploration. CREA is a pseudo environmental front group funded by oil, gas and other energy companies that the organization Republicans for Environmental Protections says has a Steering Committee that includes lobbyists for Amoco, Texaco, Shell Oil, Total Petroleum, Lion Oil and others. The research memo was paid for in part by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff who provided $250,000 in funds from his Indian tribe clients in support of the project. The memo was developed for the Department of Interior, then headed by CREA founder Gale Norton, and somehow apparently wound up in materials collected for Vice President Dick Cheney’s secretive energy policy planning process. Imagine that.But don’t worry, I hear that Senate Republicans are going to introduce legislation providing consumers with $100 tax rebates to help them deal with rising fuel prices. Let’s see, $100 for consumers, billions for oil companies. Sounds fair. As for me, I’m going to give my $100 to a Democrat.
John McDonald is a writer and consultant in Los Angeles. He writes a political blog called RockThrower.
28 April 2006 - 10:58am