Thursday, December 01, 2005

Big Oil Bosses and Cheney

In a previous post I discussed the hearing of Big Oil Bosses on Energy pricing and Profits before the US Senate Committees on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and on Energy and Natural resources).

At the hearing, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) asked clearly:
“Did your company or any representatives in your companies participate in Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- the meeting? “

In the transcripts it is not clear who said what but the Washington Post article identifies the answers:

Raymond (ExxonMobil) and O'Reilly (Chevron) said "No"
Mulva (ConocoPhillips) said "We did not, no"
Pillari (BP) said "To be honest, I don't know"
Hofmeister (Shell) said "Not to my knowledge"

However, the Washington Post reported that a leaked White House document showed that oil executives from ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell and BP met with met with Andrew Lundquist, the head of Cheney's task force.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (Nevada) proposed oil executives "be brought back to the Congress, sworn in, and forced to testify again about their involvement with Vice President Cheney's secretive energy task force and all of the issues covered in the hearing." (reference).

Would it change anything? Tobacco industry executives had raised their right hands at a 1994 congressional hearing and swore cigarettes were not addictive? And do we believe them? So, what would it change if the oil executives swear and tell the same thing they told already?

Apparently, official statements from oil companies backed up their Chairmen. And indeed the issue is on the way to become a chicken-egg problem. “No we did not” is turning into “No, I did not but someone else from my company might have” to “I do not know” to “we routinely meet with the administration officials on energy policy issues anyway.”

On November 16, 2005, a letter sent by Senators Domenici and Bingaman asked oil bosses to submit in writing clarification of answers they gave to a question during the hearing about their companies’ participation with the Cheney Energy Task Force. A joint statement by the Senators on the hearing report stated that “We have agreed to send a joint letter to each of the witnesses involved, asking for their prompt explanation, in writing, of these apparent inconsistencies. Once we have these responses, we will share them with members of the Committee and the public, and then discuss further appropriate action.”

In the mean time Senator Lautenberg called at a press conference for an investigation and said “I want to be certain that this gets an appropriate review, so I've written to the attorney general asking him to investigate whether any of these oil company CEOs broke the law by making false statements to the Congress.” (reference)

Later on, the Washington Post reported on November 23, 3005 what the republican spokesperson for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources told about the preliminary conclusion of Republican National Committee lawyers:

"What we simply determined was that the definition of 'participation' was something litigated, and what the court concluded was that attending meetings, and even making presentations, did not rise to the level of fully participating,"

Now, the Post and others interprets what “participation” means in English. Cambridge Online Dictionary defines the verb ‘participate’ as: “to take part in or become involved in an activity.”

The response letters from big oil companies that participated in the hearings can be found on the website of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Letter of O’Reilly (Chevron) dated November 18, 2005, to Chairman Domenici and Senator Bingaman regarding Chevron's participation on Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force had very clear statements, such as

“My testimony before the Committees was accurate. I did not participate on the Vice President's Task Force in 2001, nor did any Chevron representative. I did not participate in meetings convened by the Task Force, nor did any Chevron representative. Consistent with our interest in helping shape effective U.S. energy policy, I wrote to President Bush on February 5, 2001. This letter was also shared with over ninety Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including both of you, and with officials in the Administration.”

“Chevron representatives did not attend any meetings with Administration officials or staff for the purpose of discussing Task Force activities as the National Energy Policy Report was being prepared.”

“Chevron personnel routinely have and did have discussions on U.S. energy policy with officials in the Administration and their staff. As there were hundreds of individuals in the White House and the federal agencies involved in compiling the Task Force report, some of the individuals with whom we met during the course of this routine business may have been involved in the Task Force effort. Our routine meetings with those individuals were not on this topic. I met with Secretary Abraham on February 21, 2001, along with several other industry executives, but with the express purpose of making our introductions to a newly-named Cabinet member.”

In his clarification, Pillari (BP) wrote that he was "not personally involved in energy policy issues at the time. I have since looked into the matter and can advise you that BP representatives did meet with staff members of the National Energy Policy Development Group (Task Force) and provided them with comments on a range of energy policy matters, including natural gas, LNG, transportation fuels and renewables. We provided comments and information much like we continue to do, on a routine basis, with members of Congress and the administration."

Hofmeister (Shell) said in his letter that to his knowledge his company’s representatives did not meet with the task force but added, "Shell representatives did meet with the administration - including the Vice President and his staff on a broad range of energy policy issues. We also contributed information, ideas and concepts to the Baker Institute for Public Policy, which ultimately issued a report on Strategic Energy Challenges of the 21st Century."

Mulva (ConocoPhillips), said in his letter that
“Since the hearing, the Washington Post has reported that two Conoco representatives, Mr. Archie Dunham and Mr. Alan Huffman, had attended or participated in a task force meeting in 2001. In 2001, Conoco and Phillips Petroleum Co. had not yet merged into ConocoPhillips. During Mr. Dunham’s tenure as Chairman of ConocoPhillips (from August 2002 until his retirement in September 2004), I recall no discussions between us relating to the Task Force. To my knowledge, I have never met Mr. Huffman, and I understand that he was employed by ConocoPhillips for only a brief time after the merger.

In my capacity as Chairman and CEO of Phillips, I did not participate in any of the meetings of this energy task force, and I am unaware of any participation by other Phillips employees or representatives. Representatives of Phillips and ConocoPhillips have had many meetings with various members of the Administration, just as we did with representatives of prior Administrations. For example, Phillips representatives have had meetings with members of Congress and with representatives of the Administration relating to the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline, a project that has received significant bipartisan support. “

ExxonMobil said Raymond responded accurately when he said no one at the company participated in a task force meeting. However, the statement letter by ExxonMobil indicates that “a meeting between ExxonMobil officials and an administration official took place on February 14, 2001. This 45-minute meeting took place at ExxonMobil's request. ExxonMobil provided information on the global energy supply and demand situation and steps ExxonMobil was taking to meet the world's growing energy needs. That same day, the same information was shared with the GAO and both Democratic and Republican House and Senate Energy staffs.”

Washington Times reported on 30 November 2005 that “Lautenberg, who has asked the Justice Department to investigate the executives' testimony, said he is not satisfied. ‘These responses are corporate doublespeak that only further demonstrate the need for a criminal investigation’”

Well, well.

Let’s look at what happened in the past and was forgotten:

Natural Resources Defense Council has on its website a section, containing a lot of documents. The section is called “The Cheney Energy Task Force: A review and analysis of the proceedings leading to the Bush administration's formulation of its May 2001 energy policy“

Its summary says that “In the spring of 2002, under order from a federal judge, the U.S. Department of Energy released to Natural Resources Defense Council RDC roughly 13,500 pages relating to previously secret proceedings of the Bush administration's energy task force. Even though the government heavily censored the documents before supplying them to NRDC, they reveal that Bush administration officials sought extensive advice from utility companies and the oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy industries, and incorporated their recommendations, often word for word, into the energy plan.”

Corpwatch gives a neat condensed summary which says

“Today, after quickly reviewing about 1,500 additional documents that the DOE delivered to the NRDC on Tuesday, the conservation group said it has uncovered evidence showing the Bush administration adopted several energy policies requested by Chevron Corporation. The company provided several recommendations, ranging from easing federal permitting rules for energy projects to relaxing standards fuel supply requirements, versions of which were ultimately included in the president's national energy plan. For example, Chevron CEO David O'Reilly recommended that the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) "charge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to identify and address federal barriers to permitting energy projects."

On August 26, 2003, The Washington Post reported that
“The White House collaborated heavily with corporations in developing President Bush's energy policy but repeatedly refused to give congressional investigators details of the meetings, according to a federal report issued yesterday.”

“The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said in the report that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham privately discussed the formulation of Bush's policy with chief executive officers of petroleum, electricity, nuclear, coal, chemical and natural gas companies, among others."

So, who is right? All !

In fact, if the Senators wanted to know the real truth they would have asked the following questions:

· Your personnel routinely have and did have discussions on US energy policy with the officials in the Administration and their staff. How can you be sure that those discussions did not involve Task Force members, even though in those meeting Task Force is not mentioned?
· Since the task Force Members are not publicly known how come you are sure that you haven’t met them?
· Or do you really know who the Task Members were?
· Have you discusses with other companies, think-tanks the issues that you were told that was involved in Energy Task Force?

Why then the Senate does not follow a very big clue given by Shell which indicated they met with Baker Institute for Public Policy on the issues involved in their famous report called Strategic Energy Challenges of the 21st Century? Were members of that report involved in Cheney’s Task Force? Moreover, why the Senate does not ask the CEO’s of big oil service companies and energy investment bankers?

By the way, The White House has always refused to disclose information about the task force, saying the meetings were entitled to confidentiality. Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Dick Cheney, said that the courts have upheld "the constitutional right of the president and vice president to obtain information in confidentiality."

Well, all this happens in a country where transparency and freedom of information are so much promoted…

Dogs bark but the caravan moves on. - Arab Proverb


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