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Home / Why Fighting Corruption Matters / Big Oil vs. You

Big Oil vs. You

Are you still getting squeezed at the pumps every time you buy gas? Are you or your relatives paying skyrocketing bills to heat your homes this winter? Does all this seem like just a bad coincidence when oil companies are raking in record profits – in fact, some of the largest corporate profits in U.S. history?

Well it’s not a coincidence.

Although Congress did not pass an energy bill until the summer of 2005, oil and gas companies got a huge headstart when, after contributing more than $1.8 million to George Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, they were invited to sit on Vice-President Cheney’s “Energy Task Force,” whose report provided the blueprint for the energy bill. You were not represented on this super secret task force, however, as neither citizen advocacy groups nor environmental organizations were invited to join.

The purchase of private access to lawmakers didn’t end there. In one blatant example, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who played a major role in forcing through Big Oil’s energy bill, held an energy company golf fundraiser for his Leadership PAC at the fashionable Homestead resort in June of 2002 – at the very moment energy legislation was being formulated in the House! The timing of this fundraiser was so suspect that the House ethics committee felt compelled to admonish DeLay, for what it called the “appearance” that donors were being provided with special access regarding pending legislation.

All told, the oil and gas industry gave members of Congress more than $55 million in campaign contributions from 2001 through October 31, 2005 (Center for Responsive Politics). Not surprisingly, the energy bill passed by Congress in 2005 did virtually nothing to address the fundamental problems plaguing America’s energy policies. But it did lavish Big Oil and their colleagues in the gas industry with a whopping $6 billion in subsidies. That’s a return of $110 in federal subsidies – meaning your tax dollars – for every dollar spent on campaign contributions during that period.

The stated purpose of many of the subsidies was to provide “incentives” to the industry. Apparently the record profits the companies were enjoying – ExxonMobil posted a record $9.9 billion profit in just the third quarter of 2005 – were not incentive enough. (According to reports filed with federal regulators, the five largest oil companies made a staggering $257.79 billion in pure profit from 2001 through the third quarter of 2005!)

To make matters even worse, the 2005 energy bill also provided a grab bag of regulatory rollbacks for Big Oil, thereby weakening protections under the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Environmental Policy Act – all of which provide further corporate profits at a potentially grave public cost.

And when Americans began to feel the pinch of high gas prices in the fall of 2005, amid charges of price gouging and reports of the astronomical oil company profits, was Congress willing to impose a windfall profits tax on the industry? No. And when the industry executives were asked if they would donate the $6 billion in government subsidies they were just given to help low-income families pay for heating oil that winter, were they willing to share any of their fantastic wealth? Once again, the answer was no.

However, Congress was willing to allow the oil company executives to testify in hearings last fall without being put under oath. This turned out to be mighty convenient for the execs, since they all responded, upon direct questioning, that they had not been involved in any way in Cheney’s Energy Task Force. Yet only two days later the Washington Post published a leaked White House document showing that many of their companies had, in fact, participated in the secret meetings.

Have you had enough of oil companies buying access to write our national energy policy, collecting huge taxpayer-funded subsidies, and then laughing all the way to the bank while your representatives in Congress cover their tracks and you pay skyrocketing prices for gas? Then click here to become a Citizen Watchdog, and join our Clean Up Washington campaign!

Information above comes from the following Public Citizen documents:

The Best Energy Bill Corporations Could Buy

Summary of the Harmful Provisions in the Energy Bill” (jointly issued with colleague organizations)

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