Thursday, November 17, 2005

Congress Wants Cheney's Energy Industry Friends To Tell The Truth. They're Looking To Launch A Spin Campaign

When top oil executives appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this month, committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) rejected calls that they they be sworn in and forced to testify under oath.

Funny thing about testifying free of any pledge of honesty. It gives people a clear conscience to lie.

And that's what the oil executives did.

During the oath-free testimony, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) asked: "Did your company or any representatives in your companies participate in Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force in 2001, the meetings?"

Here's how they answered:

''No," said ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond.

''No," said Chevron chairman David J. O'Reilly.

''We did not, no," said ConocoPhillips chairman James Mulva.

''To be honest, I don't know," said BP America chief executive Ross Pillari, who came to the job in August 2001. ''I wasn't here then."

''But your company was here," Lautenberg replied.

''Yes," Pillari said.

Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, who has held his job since earlier this year, answered last. ''Not to my knowledge," he said.

In truth, each of the companies had participated.

A White House document shows that the company executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force in 2001. The document, obtained this week by the Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co., and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex to develop a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.

The task force's activities drew allegations by environmentalists, who said they were shut out of the task force discussions while corporate interests were present. The meetings were held in secret, and the White House would not release a list of participants. The task force was made up primarily of Cabinet-level officials.

***

Getting caught lying is always embarrasing.

It was around this time last year that the San Francisco Chronicle revealed leaked testimony from 2003 in which baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi admit to using steroids. That, after Bonds and Giambi, and many other ballplayers, repeatedly told the press that they didn't use steroids. Bonds and Giambi assumed their sealed testimony would never get leaked -- that what they said in court testimony would never cross paths with what they said publicly.

When Condoleeza Rice testified before the 9/11 Commission last year, she faced tough questioning from Richard Ben-Veniste, specifically regarding the Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing.

At the time, Rice didn't anticipate that the memo would be released to the public. She thought that it would remain confidential. So when Ben-Veniste asked her about the contents of the memo, at one point asking a question using the exact phrsaing of the memo, she thought that she could obfuscate, and no one but Ben-Veniste would be the wiser.

But then the memo was released, and it became clear that Rice had misled the panel.

No doubt, that scenario took place with the oil executives last week. They gave their non-oath testimony on the energy task force, assuming that the truth would never come out.

***

Bonds and Giambi, as baseball fans know, survived their lie because it came before baseball adopted punishments for steroids use. And Rice? With the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, she was never punished.

The oil executives may not be as lucky.

Although not vulnerable to perjury charges, they can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making ''any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" to Congress.

And now that the executives been caught in a lie, Senate Democrats are demanding that they "reappear before lawmakers and testify under oath." In a letter to Senate leadership, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wrote, "When the big oil companies came to Congress to testify about their record profits, we expected that they would tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Today, we learned that this was a standard they were not prepared to meet. This is unacceptable."

***

What a dilemma. It's bad enough that the oil companies made record profits this year. Or that they were beneficiaries of billions in corporate welfare in the recently passed energy bill. Now they have this lie to deal with.

What do corporations do when faced with facts that could leave a sour taste in consumers' mouths? Start a spin campaign.

According to a Nov. 11 story in PR Week, advertising firm Edelman is working with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry’s primary lobbying group, on a public issues campaign aimed at convincing Americans that the industry is facing severe challenges, even as its members pull in record quarterly profits.

Blue Worldwide, Edelman's advertising unit, has created print advertisements for API that have run in major daily newspapers across the nation, as well as in Roll Call and The Hill.

But industry representatives, including the CEOs of major oil companies who testified at last week's Senate hearing, want to spin that exploration and production costs have swallowed up a significant chunk of those profits.

Others disagree with that spin.

“This is the mother of all booms,” Oppenheimer & Co. oil analyst Fadel Gheit told MSNBC. “They have so much profit, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. They don’t know what to do with it."

The reason for the boom is simple. Much of the investment in finding that oil -- and developing the wells and pipelines needed to produce it -- has already been made. So an oil field that was profitable with oil selling for $20 a barrel is much more profitable with oil trading around $60.

Meanwhile, the price of a gallon of gas remains well over $2/gallon -- an uncomfortable number for Americans, and significantly higher than what gas cost before all those task force meetings.

This better be one heck of a spin campaign.

3 Comments:

Anonymous ewagner said...

Typical Bush/Repub reaction

Don't you see?

It's not an ethics problem , it really a Public Relations Problem..

Get a good PR firm and all your troubles will be over.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Double T said...

The oil sucking corporate bastards can't spin their way out of this one...

Try and convince us that tax cuts to the wealthy energy corporations and record profits means that the industry is facing severe challenges. The American consumer will tell you about facing severe challenges and their is NO BREAK from the government or anyone else for them.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous ash said...

Doesn't it say "you can't take it with you" in the Bible somewhere? Near the part about "do unto others"?

I'll never understand unbridled greed.

5:38 PM  

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