- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said yesterday that House staffers are being told to turn off computer monitors and turn out lights in order to conserve energy as Republican leaders called on oil companies to pony up record profits to build new refineries.

“These are tough times that call for tough measures,” said Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican. “We expect oil companies to do their part to help ease the pain.”

In a statement reminiscent of the 1970s oil shocks, he said staffers will be “switching off all unnecessary lights [and] unplugging equipment that drains energy when not in use,” and called on Americans to lower thermostats and drive less.

Facing voters who tie Republicans to the oil industry and who think by a nearly 2-1 ratio that producers are engaging in price gouging, party leaders are looking to distance themselves from the companies, which have begun reporting huge third-quarter profits.

BP PLC, one of the world’s largest oil companies, reported a 34 percent rise in quarterly profit yesterday as record energy prices more than outweighed hurricane damage to its rigs and refineries.

BP said net profit for the three months ended Sept. 30 rose to $6.53 billion, up from $4.87 billion in the same period of 2004. Revenue jumped to $97.73 billion from $66.73 billion.

Taken together, BP and four other major oil companies are expected to show profits 46 percent higher, or $9 billion, from July to September than they did during the same period in 2004, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Thomson Financial.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the new House Republican stance was ironic given House Republican leaders’ pressure earlier this month to pass an energy bill.

“We passed an energy bill just a week ago that gives additional assistance in the term of tax benefits to oil companies, to refineries, to build refineries, and then the week following or two weeks following talk about having to look at the refiners making so much profit that there is some question as to why that is occurring,” he said. “Some of us feel that is a perverse relationship.”

Some Democrats are prepared to go much further than Republicans in demanding that oil companies take action.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said yesterday that the government should impose a tax on companies for two years, with the proceeds going to fund alternative energy development.

She said companies that voluntarily invest profits in new refineries, energy efficiency and alternative energy would not have to pay into the fund.

“It’s not about new energy taxes on consumers; it’s about redirecting the hidden ‘tax’ that middle-class Americans are already paying to [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] and the oil companies in the form of higher prices and harnessing it to secure our energy future,” she said.

Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, which advocates for the industry, said oil companies plan to expand capacity and finish a deal on an Alaska pipeline that Mr. Hastert requested.

But he said oil production needs large capital investments, and that requires a stable national energy policy. He said Congress could do its part by clarifying rules for expanding drilling and refining oil.

“We’re not asking for any big handouts on these things,” he said. “The things we’re looking for are clarification of rules, expediting permits.”

He said a windfall profits tax would hurt domestic oil production, and he pointed to a 1990 Congressional Research Service study that found a tax imposed in the early 1980s led to decreased domestic production.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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