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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Oil Lobby Scrutinized

Congress is about to decide how much more to permit the oil and gas barons to take out of the consumers’ and taxpayer hide. The struggle on Capitol Hill is not over the gouges; it is over whether the gouges will be big or super big.

What is remarkable about this nar­row focus by our lawmakers is that it ignores week after week the unfold­ing events which ordinarily would serve to damage or defeat the oil lobby’s power to get what it wants in­stead of what it needs. A Congress that is marinated in oil is a Congress which is closed to facts that belie the industry’s claims. The oil giants say they need higher prices for oil and gas (which have quadrupled since 1973) in order to ex­plore and develop more oil and gas resources. Yet Mobil found a billion dollars to purchase Montgomery Ward, Atlantic Richfield bought the huge Anaconda copper company, Exxon is taking over a Chilean cop­per firm and Sun Oil is trying to swallow a billion dollar hospital sup­ply firm, Becton, Dickinson & Co., in New Jersey. Those are samples indi­cating where those bloated oil and gas prices are going — to take over non-energy companies in the economy.

Next, the oil industry assures Con­gress that it wants to find more energy “for a strong America.” So what are we now reading about in the newspapers. You guessed it. The oil companies are demanding that the Department of Energy permit them to export California and Alaska oil to Japan and other countries. It seems as if too much west coast oil may drop prices to consumers. Indeed, these export-oriented companies are no longer camouflaging their intent by employing the “swap our west coast oil for Middle Eastern oil” theory. They want export rights pure and simple because the Japanese are willing to pay higher prices. What about keeping oil imports down for America? Well, oil giants have other allegiances than America.

FOR SEVERAL YEARS the oil magnates have been telling Congress that without deregulation of natural gas, there will be a shortage of gas. So what is the recent news? There is so much natural gas coming to mar­ket in Texas that the state govern­ment is responding to oil and gas companies who are demanding limits on production so prices do not fall. One senior Energy Department offi­cial snorted: “The oil industry preaches laissez faire capitalism up here” but not in Texas where the gas flows.

Regularly Congress is told by the American Petroleum Institute lobby­ists that the large oil companies are not making excess profits and are not engaging in monopolistic practices. Yet in recent weeks, the Department of Energy, though filled with former oil executives, is charging companies like Exxon with hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges to consum­ers.

In addition, the oil companies have received the Department’s agree­ment not to reveal publicly or to other law enforcement agencies any data they submitted about their costs and profits broken down into produc­tion, refining, distribution and mar­keting segments or between their domestic and foreign operations. Such data are critical for enforcing the anti-monopoly laws.

THEN THERE ARE the Mobil advertisements playing the latest swing on the pendulum. This company now mocks U.S. govern­ment warnings since 1920 about the shortage of oil in this country. The ads do not tell readers that these gov­ernment estimates came directly from oil industry figures. Nor do they inform readers that oil industry esti­mates of shortages or surpluses vary over time according to political, not geological considerations.

Recently, some oil companies such as Mobil have become concerned that warnings about our country run­ning out of oil and gas have gotten out of hand. Egads, what if people re­sponded by asking why the oil companies want higher prices and tax monies for oil that is about to run out? Why not put more effort into energy conservation and solar power instead? So now Mobil is trumpeting the message that there is plenty of oil and gas here but only at a much higher price.

If individuals came to Congress with such a legacy of errors, falsi­fications, violations and duplicities that encumber the oil monopolies, they would be unlikely to prevail. But large corporations routinely receive the unequal solicitude of the laws, especially multinational oil conglomerates.

Congress as a whole is now behav­ing like the proverbial cartoon character who says: “Don’t give me the facts, my mind is made up.” It is getting so that the voters can’t even judge Congress by the quality of its hypocrisies any more.