Another oil spill

November 18, 2005

The thing about a little fib is that it makes you wonder what bigger fibs might lie behind it. Last week, for example, five top oil company executives went to Capitol Hill to explain that their record-high profits this fall were not their doing, but flowed from the immutable laws of supply and demand. We"re thinking, well, maybe - and then comes a report in Wednesday's Washington Post that something else they all agreed on just wasn't true. In answer to a seemingly minor question, they said their companies hadn't taken part in Vice President Dick Cheney's closed-door energy policy meetings back in 2001, but a White House document shows otherwise.

It's not a good idea to lie to Congress. It makes people wonder if anything else you said was true. It makes people suppose, in this case, that there probably was price- gouging. It makes people suppose that when gasoline went over $3 a gallon, and the five big oil companies" profits went over $32.8 billion for the third quarter, something must have been up. It makes people suppose that a big storm like Katrina leaves a mighty big windfall, for those who can grab it.

But the wondering and supposing don't stop there. Just why did the Cheney task force have to be so hush-hush, anyway? It's hard to believe the vice president might be embarrassed to be seen in the company of oil lobbyists. What's there to be modest about? Try this: Chapter 8 of the task force report, from May 2001, urges the United States to press for open investment policies and transparent trade practices in oil-producing nations - which sounds nice, but the meaning of it is to make the world safe for Exxon Mobil. It sheds a bit of light on the administration's hostility to the former regime in Iraq and to the current one in Venezuela. But Katrina has blown some of the cover off; it's time for the administration and the oil companies to practice a little transparency right here at home.

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