Big Oil, Little Public

Denver Post Editorial

Sunday, August 19, 2001 - The Bush administration is trying to craft the nation's energy policy largely in secret and with input only from select, special interests. If the effort succeeds, the oil industry may get more taxpayer subsidies.

On the campaign trail, Bush frequently criticized then-President Clinton for ramming a narrow agenda into policy without getting enough comment from the industries and communities affected. But the insider game being played by the Bush team is even more egregious than the acts for which Bush berated Clinton.

The latest example surfaced very quietly at the U.S. Department of Energy. The department just held three "public meetings" at which the public was not allowed to speak. Instead, DOE took testimony only from oil and gas executives and local elected officials favorable to the industry.

At issue is whether and how much the government should increase subsidies to the oil and gas companies.

The meeting schedule was announced on Aug. 6, but the first hearing was only two days later in Denver - and it was set conveniently on the heels of a big oil industry conference here. The announcement didn't come out in time for people outside the industry to rearrange their schedules. But even if citizens could have attended, they would not have been allowed to have their say - the meeting time was reserved for industry speeches. DOE followed the same narrow format in public meetings in Pittsburgh on Aug. 13 and Houston on Aug. 14.

These points deserve repeating: DOE held some of the most important energy policy meetings of the year, with very little advance public notice and only a select crowd allowed to give meaningful comment.

Common citizens will be permitted to submit only written remarks, due by Aug. 30. Even then, they can only comment on a series of very leading questions pre-determined by DOE.

The wording of those questions makes it clear the administration contemplates advocating new subsidies for the oil business. For example, one asks: "Is federal financial support needed in all sectors of the oil and gas industry?"

Usually, federal subsidies are reserved for start-up industries. There seldom is any real economic justification for pouring tax money into mature, profitable businesses. The true explanations for such government give-aways always boil down to politics.

Based on the quick meetings and limited public comments, the DOE plans to announce its budget priorities in September. Thus the Bush team will take just a few weeks to craft a core policy that will affect the nation for generations.

Yet even in its press release and on its website, the DOE buried the real issues, reserving notice of the public meetings and the implications for the last few pages.

America does need a long-term national energy policy, but it should be based on input from a wide range of citizens and industries. Bush needs to listen to more people than just his oil business buddies. By the way, citizen comments may be e-mailed to the DOE at or by snail mail to the Office of Natural Gas and Petroleum Technology, FE-30, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C. 20585; Attn: Strategic Review.



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