Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

This week National Journal reports that former Senators Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and Trent Lott, R-Miss “are working together on a blueprint for energy legislation” through their role as co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Strategic Energy Initiative, and plan to release it in January. NJ notes that “their effort could gain traction: Both are held in high regard by their former colleagues, and the BPC is a serious player in the energy debate.

What NJ fails to mention is that both Dorgan and Lott are also lobbyists getting rich taking special interest money from a who’s who of major energy corporations, which raises the question: will their energy blueprint serve as yet another veiled, sophisticated sell for their high priced energy corporate clients? When does their respected “high regard” begin and their shilling for their corporate clients end?

Lott’s Breaux Lott Leadership Group represents ExxonMobilEntergy, GE, energy trader Goldman Sachs, National Propane Gas Association, Plains Exploration and Shell Oil. In addition, the Breaux Lott group is a subsidiary of lobbying giant Patton Boggs, so you should also include PBs list of energy clients: ATP Oil & Gas, the Mining Awareness Resource Group, Oil States International and the oil giant TOTAL.

Dorgan co-chairs Government Relations for Arent Fox, where his corporate energy clients include oil companies Denbury Resources & Noble Energy.

I’m sure there will be some good recommendations in the Lott-Dorgan energy report. And I’m sure there’ll be policies that will be controversial. At the end of the day, we just don’t know what made it into the blueprint because of policy merits or the special interest paycheck.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @tysonslocum

Often lost in the important arguments of why to oppose the Keystone pipeline that would bring dirty tar sands oil from Canada to r"Tar Sands Action" "Keystone pipeline gas prices"efineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast is that it will raise gasoline prices. How does bringing in more oil supply result in higher gas prices, you ask? Let me walk you through the facts. A combination of record domestic oil production and anemic domestic demand has resulted in large stockpiles of crude oil in the U.S. In particular, supplies of crude in the critical area of Cushing, OK increased more than 150% from 2004 to early 2011 (compared to a 40% rise for the country as a whole). Segments of the oil industry want to import additional supplies of crude from Canada, bypass the surplus crude stockpiles in Oklahoma in an effort to refine this Canadian imported oil into gasoline in the Gulf Coast with the goal of increasing gasoline exports to Latin America and other foreign markets. As the Wall Street Journal noted yesterday (subscription required) :

“The sale of an oil pipeline running from Oklahoma to Texas upended U.S. energy markets Wednesday, sending the price of crude surging above $100 a barrel …Enbridge Inc.—which bought a 50% stake in the Seaway Pipeline—announced it would reverse the direction of the flow, allowing more crude to move south from oil storage in Cushing, Okla., into the world’s largest refinery complex along the Gulf Coast. Over the past two years, the U.S. has started producing so much oil that existing pipelines have been unable to move it to refineries. That has led to a glut of oil in the center of the country, keeping the price of American crude far below that of petroleum traded overseas…With a new supply of oil headed to Gulf Coast refineries, exports of gasoline are expected to rise…For decades, oil has been imported from overseas to the Gulf Coast, then either refined there or moved elsewhere in the U.S. for processing.

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As a large enegy corporation, Duke Energy doesn’t have problems obtaining access to powerful government officials that regular Americans could never enjoy. Earlier this year Duke loaned $10 million to Obama’s signature re-election effort, and the company’s political action committee and top executives have made $1.8 million in contributions to federal candidates since the 2008 cycle, with an additional $25 million spent lobbying the federal government over that same time period. That kind of money buys you access – for example, Duke’s CEO Jim Rogers – with the help of a certain large environmental group - railroaded climate legislaiton to make it more utility-friendly back in 2009.

But turning progressive climate legislation into a loophole ridden, grab-bag of handouts for Duke Energy is a cakewalk compared to what he’s been doing in Indiana. Local news reports document how Jim Rogers has been inappriropiratly lobbying state officials – namely the governor, Mitch Daniels, on a nearly $3 billion coal power plant boondoggle called Edwardsport. Duke has been trying to get state regulatory approval to have its 780,000 Indiana customers pick up the tab for this expensive facility. But becuase of mismanagement, fraud and other small details, that proposal wasn’t going so well. So Duke, armed with its nearly $300,000 in contributions to Indiana state officials in the 2008 and 2010 cycles, sought to influence the Governor.

You can read the internal Duke emails here. But what is really remarkable is how they document Jim Roger’s influence in Washington, DC. Not since Westar Energy has Public Citizen reviewed such juicy details of how a major energy corporation wines and dines powerful government officials. Literally. In a letter to his board of directors, Jim Rogers boasts that he and his top DC lobbyist Bill Tyndall “had lunch with Energy Secretary Chu and several of his key deputies, followed by a meeting with DOE Under Secretary Kristina Johnson, who heads the FutureGen project. We also had dinner with Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and his Director of Policy and Strategic Planning, Travis Sullivan.” Now, this letter to the board was written in 2010, and since then Johnson & Locke have departed, but it just goes to show that corporations can take Obama’s team out to lunch and dinner, while the rest of us get taken to the cleaners.

-Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow me on twitter @tysonslocum

New rules by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to curb excessive speculation in energy commodity markets do not go far enough to protect consumers, Public Citizen said in testimony today before a U.S. Senate subcommittee.

"Tyson Slocum" "Public Citizen" "Energy Director"

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's energy program

Excessive speculation by financial and energy corporation traders have pushed prices beyond the supply-demand fundamentals, sending costs for consumers through the roof, Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

“Banks dominate energy trading markets through their role as swaps dealers and as managers of index funds, which facilitates successful proprietary trading operations,” Slocum said. “While the new CFTC rules help to rein in the Wild West feature of energy commodity markets, consumers still are plagued by unreasonably high prices.”

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This week concluded the presidential commission hearings on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  The Oil Spill Commission will meet once more for final deliberation in early December before going behind closed doors to craft its report on the worst oil spill in the history of the United States.  No small task.  But a task made that much more challenging by the fact that the entity has been denied subpoena power.

During the course of the two day hearing held in Washington, D.C., the commission’s chief counsel, Fred Bartlit regularly highlighted the data gaps that subpoena power could have helped fill in.

Chief counsel Bartlit’s plea – “Subpoena, that’s damn important” – pointed in part to the possibility that the spill commission may never resolve a fundamental question: How a band of experienced roughnecks on a muddy drill floor missed critical warning signs and failed to control a rush of oil and gas that hit the rig with the force of a 550-ton freight train. But instead of testimony under oath to resolve fundamental questions, the commission has had to rely on the “full cooperation”  of the corporations involved in the rig explosion – BP, Transocean and Halliburton.

Why have these companies been munching on their carrots of cooperation, while ultimately avoiding the stick of “swearing the truth and nothing but the truth”?  Their republican beneficiaries  in the Senate have deemed subpoena power as just another vehicle for shakin’ down the oil industry.

Meanwhile the corporations involved in the sequence of events that let to the April 20th explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig have been working with the Commission and its counsel to deconstruct the event, unfortunately much of their role has been pointing the finger at the other guys.

The disputes between Transocean and BP and Halliburton as to who said what when, and who has the responsibility for that, this is where subpoena power would be helpful,” said Bartlit. “It’s hard to resolve that unless I can sit people down in a room and cross-examine them and find out what’s believable and not believable.”

Bartlit went so far as to ask the represents from the three companies whether or not they would be willing to press the Senate on granting the commission subpoena power – they weren’t empowered to respond at that time.

In the final analysis, the American public needs to know that all the facts were represented – not just to have faith in the set of recommendations prescribed by the Commission, but to avoid further demoralization of a populace already scathed by political posturing that puts party before progress.

Allison Fisher is the Outreach Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

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