By Ben Geman and Andrew Restuccia - 05/11/11 11:18 PM EDT
Thursday’s big story: Senate Democrats will grill top executives from oil giants including Exxon, Shell and BP during what’s guaranteed to be a combative hearing over gas prices and profits.
Thursday's Senate Finance Committee hearing will continue the tradition of bringing CEOs to Capitol Hill when gasoline prices — and industry earnings — are high.
The hearing — and the media-friendly image of oil company CEOs lined up that it promises — comes amid a push by Democratic leaders to strip billions of dollars worth of industry tax breaks.
In a preview of the testy, on-camera exchanges to come, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) vowed Wednesday to seek an apology at the hearing from ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva.
At a Wednesday press conference in front of a gas station, Menendez took aim at the company’s claim that proposals to increase industry’s tax burden are “un-American.”
“For ConocoPhillips to question the patriotism of those elected officials who believe that they do not deserve billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies is simply beyond the pale,” Menendez said.
But Democrats aren’t the only lawmakers practicing their lines for the big event.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Finance panel, said he’ll ask the oil execs if Democratic plans to nix industry tax breaks will reduce prices at the pump, which are averaging almost $4 per gallon nationwide.
Hatch, in a brief interview Wednesday, answered the question himself. “The answer to that is 'absolutely not,'" he said. “That is going to cause prices to go even higher.”
The witness list:
- John Watson, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Chevron Corporation
- Marvin Odum, U.S. President, Shell Oil Company
- Lamar McKay, Chairman and President, BP America Inc.
- James Mulva, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ConocoPhillips
- Rex Tillerson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Exxon Mobil Corporation
Republican aides, meanwhile, also circulated comments Wednesday by two pro-drilling Democratic senators — Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) — who took to the Senate floor to bash the tax-cut repeal proposals.
GOP drilling bill clears House
The House passed Wednesday the second component of its three-bill legislative package to expand offshore drilling amid high gas prices and growing concern about the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
While the bill passed largely along party lines, 28 Democrats supported it.
The legislation is part of a broad effort by Republicans to position themselves as being proactive in the face of increasing frustration over gas prices.
But the bills, energy analysts say, will have almost no near-term impact on gas prices. However, Republicans counter that it’s important in the long term to wean the country off its dependence on imported oil.
Some Republicans also claim that passage of the plans would help curb prices in the near term by sending markets a signal about increasing American supplies.
The bills, authored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), would respectively compel the Interior Department to offer up offshore areas for oil leasing, speed up the permitting of offshore drilling projects and open up new areas on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling.
The third bill in the package is expected to pass Thursday.
Read more about the other two bills here and here.
Democrats blasted the GOP bills as short-sighted Wednesday.
“It’s as if the largest oil spill in U.S. waters didn’t occur,” Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said on the House floor Wednesday.
“Nobody is saying that we oppose this bill because we shouldn’t drill ever. But let’s be smart.”
Still, the GOP drilling bills are unlikely to be signed into law. They face an uphill battle in the Senate, and the White House has publicly opposed the bills.
McCarthy hopeful House drilling bills aren’t DOA in Senate, White House
Despite the major hurdles facing a trio of GOP-backed offshore drilling bills in the Senate and the slim chance that President Obama will sign the bills into law, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is still holding out hope that the legislation will gain momentum.
At a press conference Wednesday shortly after the second of the drilling bills passed the House, McCarthy said he thinks high gas prices could soften the president’s objections to the bills.
“If the president goes out across this country and asks people about gasoline prices, they’re not going to say, ‘Mr. President, don’t sign the bill that just so happens to have started in the Republican House.’” McCarthy said. “They’re going to say, ‘Lower the price, I don’t care who gets the credit.’”
Pressed by The Hill as to whether he believed the bills could be signed into law, McCarthy said, “I think the president should definitely look at these bills, and we’re more than willing to show them to him and push them forward. If he has some ideas that he thinks would produce more, we’re willing to work with him.”
But the White House has blasted House Republicans’ offshore drilling bills in a series of statements issued in the last week, arguing they will “undercut” a series of beefed-up safety standards put in place in the months after last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“We’re always willing to work with anybody who wants to work to increase energy production in America and make the price of gasoline come down,” McCarthy said when asked if House Republicans would be willing to work to craft a bipartisan piece of legislation that could eventually be signed into law.
The gas station press conference is back
A fixture during the summer of 2008 when gas prices reached an all-time high in the United States, the gas station press conference made a triumphant return Wednesday.
Standing in front of sign showing gas prices well over $4 per gallon at an Exxon station on Capitol hill Wednesday, a group of Democrats blasted the oil industry for making high profits, arguing they don’t need billions of dollars in tax breaks.
Senate Democrats are planning to vote next week on a bill that would eliminate $21 billion in oil industry tax breaks for the five largest companies over the next 10 years.
Senate Dems to unveil energy bill this summer
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Senate Democrats will be releasing an energy bill this summer that will outline a long-term strategy to lower gas prices.
“In June or July we will be introducing legislation that will promote conservation, that will promote alternative energy and that will do many things to reduce the price. That is a long-term issue,” he told reporters Wednesday.
“The only way we’re going to get the price down at the pump, you know it and I know it, is by having a long-term plan to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and the big five oil companies and we will be addressing that issue very soon.”
Schumer offered no further details on the bill.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to give more details on the proposal.
Senate Republicans introduce energy bill
Senate Republicans introduced an energy bill of their own Wednesday, the latest such piece of legislation to be thrown into the ring.
The bill, which echoes legislation passed in recent weeks by house Republicans, would direct the Interior Department to conduct lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia and Alaska, extend current leases in the Gulf by one year, require all leasees to develop spill response and containment plans; and speed up the review process for offshore drilling permit applications.
“Our bill would simply return American offshore production to where it was before this administration locked it up, require federal bureaucrats to process permits rather than endlessly sitting on them and improve offshore safety,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
Sens. Alexander, Merkley team up for electric vehicles
Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are floating a plan to boost the market for electric vehicles.
Here’s a brief summary from the lawmakers:
“The bill would create limited, short-term ‘deployment communities’ across the country in order to help jump-start the market penetration of electric vehicles by allowing the deployment communities to serve as models and help determine best practices for the nationwide use of electric vehicles. The bill would also create a competitive grant process for companies to electrify their fleets and make it easier for the federal government to acquire more electric vehicles.
Cantwell, Wyden press CFTC on position-limits rule
A largely Democratic group of senators are pressing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to complete overdue rules that would create new position limits for traders in the oil futures markets, a step the lawmakers call necessary to stem harmful speculation.
“The CFTC’s failure to act may again be saddling consumers with higher gas prices, higher food costs, and inflationary fears, all of which jeopardize our nation’s economic turnaround,” states a letter to the CFTC Wednesday from 17 senators, led by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
The letter asks for an update on the CFTC’s plans by May 23. Other signers include Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). The whole letter is available here.
ON TAP THURSDAY:
The Hill, energy group host Upton at policy breakfast
The Hill is hosting a Capitol Hill breakfast sponsored by the American Association of Blacks in Energy titled “Taking Control of America's Energy Security.”
Speakers include House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), former Rep. Harold Ford (R-Tenn.) and several other experts.
Senate energy panel probes carbon capture bills
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets again Thursday to hear testimony on a pair of bills to boost development and commercialization of carbon capture and sequestration technologies.
Senate environmental panel probes diesel emissions
A panel of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on "Federal Efforts to Protect Public Health by Reducing Diesel Emissions."
Bipartisan House group to float energy bill
Lawmakers under the banner of the “House Energy Working Group” will roll out an energy plan that would steer oil production revenues into alternative energy programs.
The group — which came together in March — includes Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.).
“The Infrastructure Jobs and Energy Independence Act is the only bipartisan, comprehensive American energy solution offered in the House. The legislation dedicates an estimated $2.2 trillion to $3.7 trillion in federal revenues from expanded offshore exploration leases and royalties toward repairing America’s roads and bridges, investing in renewable energy sources and clean energy technologies, environmental restoration, and reducing the deficit,” an advisory states.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...
Here's a quick roundup of Wednesday's E2 stories:
- White House attacks GOP oil lease bill, but no veto threat
- Amendment would require disclosure of executive bonuses to secure oil leases
- GOP spotlights disavowed White House proposal to tax car mileage
- Democrats press for oil company tax hikes as amendments to drilling bills
- Dems: GOP's Wall Street bill encourages higher gas prices
- Senate Dems to revive oil tax-breaks repeal push during broad deficit fight
- Sen. Den Heller (R-Nev.) will replace Sen. Burr on Energy Committee
- House approves bill setting timeline for permitting drilling projects
- Sen. Heller’s energy priorities list is short: ‘Lower gasoline prices’
- World Resources Institute president to step down
- Landrieu calls fellow Dems' oil-tax bill ‘laughable’
- On eve of hearing, Menendez hits ConocoPhillips over ‘un-American’ claim
- Alaska Rep. says Mass. delegation never votes to produce energy
- House rejects three Dem amendments to offshore drilling bill