- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

When Dick Cheney pointed out this week that Al Gore has an oil-related conflict of interest make that a Big Oil-related conflict of interest because a Gore family trust holds roughly $500,000 worth of stock in Occidental Petroleum Corp. George W. Bush's running mate didn't tell the half of it.

To be sure, the Gore bloc of Oxy stock left by the late Albert Gore Sr. to his widow in a trust over which the vice president has "sole discretion" calls into question an array of actions taken by Al Gore Jr. Mr. Cheney mentioned just one: Mr. Gore's support in June for extending a moratorium on royalties that U.S. companies pay in order to drill for natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico. "At the time, it was clear that perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the proposed extension was Occidental Oil," said Mr. Cheney, adding that since Mr. Gore is heir to Occidental stock, it is "inappropriate" for him "to be advocating a position that is linked to Occidental's financial health."

This probably isn't the first time. While "reinventing government," Mr. Gore recommended selling Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve. This reserve, established in 1912, was preserved even through the Arab oil embargo, when President Nixon wanted to increase domestic oil production, and throughout the 1980s, when President Reagan wanted to sell it to reduce the deficit. But with Mr. Gore's endorsement, in an era of relative peace and unprecedented prosperity, President Clinton put the 47,000-acre reserve up for sale. Occidental snapped it up for $3.65 billion, tripling the company's domestic reserves. According to the leftish Center for Public Integrity, the sale's environmental assessment wasn't conducted by the Energy Department as required, but by a private firm ICF Kaiser International Inc. on whose board of directors sat Tony Coehlo, former chairman of Mr. Gore's presidential campaign. All of which rounds out a nice set of coincidences.

Then there's the plight of the U'wa Indians in Colombia. The tribe is locked in what may be a literal death struggle with Occidental, whose plans to pump oil adjacent to tribal lands have driven the U'wa to threaten mass suicide. Recently, the tribe vowed that the Colombian government will have to kill every U'wa before it allows "Big Oil" to drill.

No need to get down to the Last of the U'was to realize that earth is not exactly in the balance in Colombia but has Al Gore commented on this Big Green-Big Oil showdown? No. When hundreds of environmentalists took over Mr. Gore's campaign offices in Olympia, Wash., to call attention to his silence, Mr. Gore was out stumping as the people's avenger of Big Oil, natch.

But Mr. Gore's ties to Occidental extend beyond shares of stock. It is astonishing to think that Mr. Gore could become president without having to discuss the role in his family played by the notorious Armand Hammer, the longtime Occidental owner whose secret life as the top American agent of the nascent Soviet Union is detailed in Edward Jay Epstein's extraordinary book, "Dossier." In his day, Mr. Hammer brought more than a few politicians under his wing, among them the senior Gore, whose support throughout his career in the House and the Senate proved invaluable, and included political protection against an FBI attempt to bring Mr. Hammer to book for espionage. In return, the Gore family was enriched. Indeed, after leaving the Senate, Albert Gore Sr. entered into a lucrative Big Oil career at Occidental.

And what of Junior? Nothing startlingly nefarious, just financial support ranging from Hammer-provided land and mineral rights, adding up to $20,000 annually, and hefty Occidental campaign donations to Clinton-Gore and the Democratic National Committee. (Indeed, the Center for Public Integrity reports that Occidental gave $50,000 after one of Mr. Gore's "no-controlling-legal-authority" calls.) The point is not that the vice president has done anything illegal. But here stands a man who says he's not one to go along with an agenda "of Big Oil, by Big Oil, and for Big Oil." Really, the guy doesn't have room to talk.

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