On his 10th day as vice president, Dick Cheney established a secretive Energy Task Force, formally known as the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), to develop the Bush Administration's energy policy. The meetings were held in secret and the White House refuses to release a complete list of participants or transcripts of task force meetings. If participants of Cheney's energy task force were acting in good faith in the best interest of the public good, then there should be nothing to hide nothing to keep secret. The fact that the Bush Administration has worked so hard to keep the participants and transcripts under wraps suggests otherwise.
While the White House has made every effort to keep the task force work secret, The Washington Post obtained a White House document that shows officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met with Cheney's energy task force in the White House complex. Cheney's energy task force also held secret meetings with lobbyists and representatives coal, nuclear, natural gas, and electricity industries. Furthermore, the Government Accountability Office found that a number of corporate energy company representatives "gave detailed energy policy recommendations" to the task force. Many of the individuals listed on the White House document work for energy companies, which gave large campaign contributions to the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2000.
One year ago, Congress finalized the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which is derived in large part from Cheney's 2001 energy task force recommendations. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 lavished $14.5 billion in tax breaks on energy firms, nearly 60 percent of which went to "oil, natural gas, coal, electric utilities and nuclear power." Last week U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel W. Bodman joined Senator Pete Domenici, Congressman Joe Barton and representatives of the petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas, and electricity industries at the White House for a one-year 'celebration' of the energy bill's enactment.
There is much for the energy industry to celebrate too! In early 2001 oil sold for roughly $20 a barrel and today it's close to $75. In early 2001 the average national gas price was under $1.50, one year ago it was $2.14, and today, it's over $3.00. Thanks to these huge price escalations, five of the world's largest energy companies last week reported combined second-quarter profits of more than $30 billion. Exxon Mobil Corp. alone reported a second-quarter profit of $10.36 billion, an increase of 36 percent from the second quarter of 2005 when the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was enacted.
And, there is still more for the energy industry to celebrate - The Bush Administration, thanks to Dick Cheney secret Energy Task Force, has allowed multiple large vertically integrated oil companies to merge over the last five years, placing control of the market in too few hands. The result - uncompetitive domestic gasoline markets. While U.S. oil companies blame the global oil market for high gasoline prices, a close analysis of pricing suggests it's not so simple: The large run-up at the pump also comes from domestic refinery prices, which is largely controlled by Big Oil. A new refinery hasn't been built in this country since 1979, while the number of refineries has been cut by more than half as big oil companies closed refineries following merger consolidation. Large oil companies can more easily control domestic gasoline prices by exploiting their ever-greater market share, keeping prices artificially high to rake in easy profits.
Setting up "Big Oil" for outlandish profits is one good reason for the Bush Administration to make every effort to keep the task force work secret. But, is there another reason to keep the task force work secret? In July 2003, after two years of legal action and a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch over the activities of Cheney's 2001 Energy Task Force, the Commerce Department released some of the task force documents. Those documents, dated March 2001, included a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts." There are supporting charts with details of the major oil and gas development projects that provide information on the project's costs, capacity, oil company and status or completion date.
Was Cheney already gathering information on Iraqi oil fields in early 2001 in anticipation of and/or planning for the Iraqi war? That oil field information seems to have been on the mind of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz just before the war started. Leading up to the Iraqi war Wolfowitz stated before a Senate Committee that Iraqi oil revenues would pay all the costs of reconstructing the country and that Iraqi oil would quickly flow into the world market. Administration officials also insisted that the war would increase, not tighten, supplies of oil and gas on the world market and that the war would not drive up gas prices in the U.S. As it turns out, the U.S. has been buying and importing large quantities of gasoline and other fuels into Iraq for the past three years, contributing to energy price escalations in America. Hurricane Katrina last fall finally exposed the fact that Iraq is soaking up U.S. gas supplies and is another cost of war that U.S. citizens must bear.
In his State of the Union address this year, President Bush declared, "America is addicted to oil." That statement is nothing more than grand irony from a man who does not truly grasp the gravity of America's energy dilemma. Holding only 3 percent of the world's remaining oil reserves, America's consumes 25 percent of the world's annual oil production.
Yet, with only 3 percent of the world's remaining oil reserves, President Bush has dutifully followed Vice President Dick Cheney's National Energy Policy recommendations. Three-quarters of the oil wells ever drilled in the world are in U.S and we are not likely to magically find new substantially large oil fields in North America. Cheney's National Energy Policy recommendations for drilling in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge and off every coast of North America would increase only slightly our share of world reserves.
The Bush Administration's failed energy policy and failed occupation of Iraq has taken us in the wrong direction, leading to record gas prices that exceed $3 a gallon, record crude oil prices of more than $75 a barrel, record oil company profits, and record dependence on foreign oil. Over the past five years, gasoline prices are up 71 percent, American families are spending a record amount of their paychecks to keep up with energy costs, and our nation's dependence on foreign oil has increased. Our nation needs an energy plan based on U.S. developed renewable energy using innovative technologies, and efficient use of energy in our homes, vehicles, workplaces, and factories.
America needs a crash course to develop alternative and renewable energy, but the Bush administration and the GOP-controlled Congress are not willing to pursue this path. Democrats are united in presenting a New Direction for America, one that will make our nation strong and energy independent. Return congress to Democrat'ic' control in the fall...