- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2005

A lot of people have been jumping on the bandwagon attacking the oil industry for its soaring profits the past two years. Among them are Bill O’Reilly and many Democrats. But why have GOP senators — including Majority Leader Bill Frist — and House Speaker Dennis Hastert joined in? Hauling the CEOs of five major oil companies under the klieg lights and grilling them at a joint hearing of two Senate committees Wednesday was a stunt one would have expected a Democratic-controlled Senate to have performed.

Not long ago, Mr. Hastert said, “We expect oil companies to do their part to help ease the pain that the American families are feeling from high energy prices.” Yet, on the very day the oil CEOs were being harangued in the Senate for not doing “their part,” Mr. Hastert stripped from the House’s budget-reconciliation bill a provision to permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He did so in order to secure enough votes from his fellow Republicans to pass the budget measure. Ten years ago President Clinton vetoed a budget bill that included this ANWR provision. Now, the Republican-controlled House is effectively doing the same thing. Which begs a question: If a GOP-dominated House cannot approve drilling for oil in ANWR in the wake of $70-per-barrel oil and $3-a-gallon gasoline at a time when U.S. petroleum imports are at a record-level 13.4 million barrel per day, when can pain-feeling American families expect Republicans in the House do “their part”?

Economics 101 supply-and-demand curves are apparently too complicated for lawmakers to understand. But is it too much to expect U.S. senators to realize that the oil industry is cyclical? More to the point, where have they since 1973? They shed crocodile tears in front of the cameras over a profit-enhancing, temporary spike in the price of gasoline after natural disasters shut down 29 percent of the nation’s refining capacity. But we can’t recall any senatorial sympathy for the oil industry outside of Texas when the price of crude fell below $10 per barrel in 1998, reducing the price of gasoline below 70 cents a gallon in some markets.

As Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond testified, Exxon spent $15 billion on capital expenditures in 1998 when its profits were $8 billion and $15 billion last year when its profits were three times as high. “In fact, over the last 10 years,” Mr. Raymond told the committees, “Exxon Mobil’s cumulative capital and exploration expenditures exceeded our cumulative earnings.” Exxon’s oil policies over the last 10 years compare very favorably to the oil policy in Congress. Ten years ago, a Republican-controlled Congress approved ANWR production. On Wednesday, the GOP-dominated House rejected it.

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