"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Friday, October 07, 2005
In a cliffhanger vote held open by Republican leaders until they won, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by two votes on Friday a bill giving U.S. oil refineries incentives to expand.
The legislation, written by Republican Joe Barton of Texas, was barely approved, 212-210, even after Barton dropped a White House-backed provision that would have gutted clean air rules for refineries to expand existing plants.
The bill wants to add 2 million barrels per day of capacity by offering abandoned military bases for refinery construction sites. It also gives federal insurance to refiners whose projects are delayed by lawsuits or regulatory snags, and puts the Energy Department in charge of processing permits.
Let's see - free real estate, free insurance, and guaranteed permits. What could possibly go wrong?
Some 13 Republicans, mostly from Northeast states, ultimately voted with 196 Democrats and 1 independent against the bill. No Democrats voted for it.
Democrats in the chamber chanted "shame, shame, shame" as the final tally was announced.
When over two dozen Republicans initially voted no, DeLay, Barton, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and new Majority Leader Roy Blunt circled the chamber to cajole holdouts.
Republican Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland was the last to switch. With the tally stuck at 211-211, Gilchrest changed his vote, making it 212-210. Barton promptly shook his hand and Republican Mike Simpson, who presided over the vote, gaveled it to an end.
Let's stop to correct the record - the delay was not to "cajole holdouts," because there were no "holdouts." Everyone had voted. Every member of the House had gone on record. The delay was not to "cajole holdouts," it was to strongarm those who dared to vote against the preferred result.
Anyway, let's move on:
No new U.S. refinery has been built since 1976 and dozens of plants have been closed despite rising fuel consumption.
"We haven't built a new refinery in a generation. We need more," said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican.
Democrats say refiners are loath to build new facilities amid record-high profits, while Republicans say permitting and environmental requirements keep them from expanding.
Wow, we seem to have a real disagreement here on the facts. Let's look at those facts just a bit more closely, shall we?
Here's some news from a month ago that may have escaped you:
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) today exposed internal oil company memos that show how the industry intentionally reduced domestic refining capacity to drive up profits. The exposure comes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as the oil industry blames environmental regulation for limiting number of U.S. refineries.
The three internal memos from Mobil, Chevron, and Texaco (available at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/energy/fs/) show different ways the oil giants closed down refining capacity and drove independent refiners out of business. The confidential memos demonstrate a nationwide effort by American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying and research arm of the oil industry, to encourage the major refiners to close their refineries in the mid-1990s in order to raise the price at the pump.
"Large oil companies have for a decade artificially shorted the gasoline market to drive up prices," said FTCR president Jamie Court, who successfully fought to keep Shell Oil from needlessly closing its Bakersfield, California refinery this year. "Oil companies know they can make more money by making less gasoline. Katrina should be a wakeup call to America that the refiners profit widely when they keep the system running on empty."
Take a look at the actual documents at the link in this press release; they're quite eye-opening. They include internal memos from Mobil, Chevron and Texaco, in which the companies complain quite bitterly about excess refinery capacity cutting into their profits (although it's hard to be very sympathetic, considering that those profits, at the refinery level, have increased by over 300% in the last year). So, the oil companies don't want to increase capacity because it will cut into their margins - but some schwag, compliments of the taxpayer, may be enough to convince them otherwise. Thus, gas prices may decrease (which would certainly be good news for the powers that be, especially those facing re-election), but the net dip into the average consumer/taxpayer's pocket remains unchanged. Instead of paying at the pump, you get to pay on April 15.
Regardless of the merits (so-called) of the bill, however, the process leading to its passage was fundamentally corrupt. The House leadership didn't get the result they wanted on a fair vote, so they decided to play Calvinball and change the rules as they went along. News flash: This is not how it's supposed to work. This is raw DeLay-ism, pure and simple; the Hammer may have vacated his leadership position, but his stench lingers.
"Shame, shame, shame," indeed.