CONGRESS IN POCKET OF BIG OIL
HEARINGS COMPROMISED BY OIL INDUSTRY DOLLARS
By James P. Tucker
The American public has been in an uproar following news of windfall oil industry profits such as Exxon Mobil’s record-breaking 75 percent jump from last year. But the Senate, which has launched an “investigation” of the matter, seemed compromised by oil industry campaign contributions.
An unusual joint hearing of two committees, the Commerce Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was called by Senate GOP leaders. But the oil barons were holding all the cards.
Five oil barons “testified”—but not under oath—on Nov. 9 during the Senate hearing about possible gasoline-price gouging after Hurricane Katrina.
A formal request for sworn testimony from energy-company CEOs was denied by the chairman of the Commerce Committee, who also chaired the special joint session. The barons were invited to speak; they were not under subpoena.
From the start, the softness of the Senate’s tepid, softball questioning seemed suspiciously proportional to the amount of industry funds a questioner had received.
When Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska, $102,190) announced he would not require the executives to give their testimony under oath, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash., $9,400) asked for a vote on the issue. Stevens shot back:
“There will be no vote. . . . It’s the decision of the chairman, and I have made that decision.”
Cantwell has been leading Senate Democrats in a publicity campaign against potential price gouging. “I move that we swear in witnesses,” Cantwell insisted.
“I second the motion,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif., $9,450).
“That’s the last we’re going to hear about that, because it’s out of order,” Stevens replied. When the two women continued their protest, the chairman informed them:
“I intend to be respectful of the position that these gentlemen hold.”
When Boxer later displayed a large chart showing the executives’ obscenely large income, Stevens cut her off.
Lee Raymond, chairman of ExxonMobil Corp., acknowledged the high gasoline and home heating prices “have put a strain on Americans’ household budgets,” but he defended his company’s profits.
Petroleum earnings “go up and down” from year to year and are in line with other industries when you consider the oil industry’s enormous revenues, he claimed.
Chevron’s David O’Reilly, Conoco Phillips’s James Mulva, BP America’s Ross Pillari and Shell Oil’s John Hofmeister also spoke at the hearing.
(Issue #47, November 21, 2005)