Lame-duck moves helped oil industry Oilmen got break on payments to government

February 11, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- In its final weeks before leaving office, the Bush administration took a series of little-noticed steps to allow the petroleum industry to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in additional royalty and interest payments to the government.

At the same time, Bush administration officials lowered the government fees for some ranchers who graze livestock on federal lands.

The actions were taken in late December and January as outgoing administration officials prepared to relinquish control to the Democrats. They are only now coming to light as Clinton administration appointees sort through the issues before their departments.

Yesterday, Mr. Clinton's interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, issued an order rescinding one of the oil and gas decisions, which had forestalled government efforts to collect certain royalty payments. He said that the government claim for the money was fully consistent with "existing departmental regulations and practice."

The Bush administration actions dealt with issues that in some cases had been under review by federal agencies for years. Several involved large sums for the parties involved.

Officials who served the Bush administration say that all the cases had been thoroughly considered at the appropriate levels and were ready for resolution.

Nevertheless, some acknowledge that they were conscious of their expiring authority and wanted to make sure the final decisions carried their stamp rather than their successors'.

"There was a group of people who basically felt that Republicans should stop governing after the election and I happen to dispute that notion," said John E. Schrote, a former Department of Interior assistant secretary who was involved in many of the actions.

Indeed, he said, "I did particularly take a look at policies and things we could accomplish before we left office and I set out to get those things done."

Cabinet members are seeking to determine which, if any, should be rescinded and how difficult that might be to do.

Also receiving new scrutiny is an action taken in October, four days before the election that allowed businessmen in Arizona to delay the first installment payment on a $2.3 billion debt to the federal government for a massive water project.

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