- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

The Rev. Pat Robertson yesterday accused big oil companies of trying to stop him from reopening a shuttered refinery he owns in California, which a Democratic senator said proves the industry stifles its competition.
Mr. Robertson told reporters on Capitol Hill at least one "major oil company" threatened recently to pull its money out of a bank if the institution helped finance the refinery.
He would not name the oil company or the bank. "When you're preparing an antitrust suit, it is best not to lay all the cards on the table in a press conference," he said.
Mr. Robertson said the suit would name "pretty much all" of the major oil companies that do business in California.
"I don't have a case yet, but it is building," he said.
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who joined Mr. Robertson at the press conference, said the religious broadcaster's experience "confirms that the lack of competition in the gasoline business today is no accident."
This month, Mr. Wyden released internal oil industry documents that suggest companies tried to boost profits in the mid-1990s by reducing gasoline supply. Industry executives called the accusations groundless.
A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group, declined comment on Mr. Robertson's accusations.
The association said earlier this month there is no evidence of collusion among oil companies against independent refiners and noted that the Federal Trade Commission has found no antitrust violations in two recent investigations.
The California Supreme Court also recently rejected an antitrust case involving gasoline marketing in California.
One of the documents that Mr. Wyden released this month referred to Mr. Robertson's refinery. In the 1996 e-mail message from Mobil Corp., which has since merged with Exxon, an executive calls for a "full court press" to prevent the Powerine Oil Co. refinery in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., from reopening.
A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil Corp. declined comment yesterday.
Financial problems forced Powerine to close its refinery in 1995. Over the years, the plant drew heavy fines from air pollution agencies and was criticized by neighbors, who said its fumes burned their eyes and caused skin rashes.
Cenco Refining Co., a company formed by Mr. Robertson's charitable trust foundation, bought the plant in 1998. It has invested $80 million in new equipment and upgrades, company spokesman Donald Brown said.
Cenco needs between $170 million and $200 million to reopen the plant, which can refine as much as 50,000 barrels of oil a day, Mr. Brown said.
The company is trying to secure the financing through banks, he said.
A California environmental group has filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction against the refinery, charging that the city of Santa Fe Springs and state authorities allowed Cenco to skirt federal environmental procedures so the company could obtain its operating permits.
Mr. Robertson has a long history of dabbling in business. He founded the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1960, and sold a media company he owned for $1.9 billion in 1997.
Mr. Robertson has also become involved in politics through the Christian Coalition. He ran for president in 1988 as a Republican.
Mr. Wyden, one of the Senate's most liberal members, said Mr. Robertson's experience with his oil refinery shows the energy problem is not a partisan issue.
He said Sens. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads a Senate subcommittee on investigations, and Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican and the panel's ranking member, want to hold hearings soon on the oil industry documents Mr. Wyden released this month.

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