Bob Tippee

Extraordinarily high profits by oil and gas companies occur rarely and never last long. Energy mistakes by Congress happen frequently and hurt the US for years.

Oil companies are now reporting extraordinary profits for a period characterized by extreme commodity prices. Their reports are bringing out the worst in lawmakers.

Bills for a new windfall profit tax have been showing up all year from Democrats, for example. Now Republicans are joining the orgy of indignation.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Oct. 27 called for a hearing on the reasons energy prices are high.

"Americans are wondering what has happened to push [energy] costs through the roof," he said.

Does it really require a congressional hearing to understand why prices rose after two hurricanes shut in most production in the Gulf of Mexico and idled refineries on the Gulf Coast? Is the relationship between commodity prices and producer profits a mystery that anyone needs Congress to solve?

"If there are those who abuse the free enterprise system to advantage themselves and their businesses at the expense of all Americans, they ought to be exposed, and they ought to be ashamed," Frist said.

Good grief. Will America ever learn anything about energy when leaders behave this way?

Frist's call for yet another fruitless blamefest on energy prices came after House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) harrumphed: "We expect oil companies to do their part to ease the pain American families are feeling from high energy prices."

So why has Congress kept companies from leasing most federal acreage all these years? Why did Congress in July pass a bill certain to raise gasoline costs by mandating large amounts of ethanol and leaving refiners in legal jeopardy over methyl tertiary butyl ether?

The US has an energy crisis born of extraordinary storms, which caused extraordinary oil gas prices leading to extraordinary oil company profits.

Congress can only make matters worse by rushing to fabricate blame out of crisis market phenomena. With energy, the US needs less demagoguery and more leadership from Congress. As Frist and Hastert make clear, such leadership would be extraordinary indeed.

(Online Oct. 28, 2005; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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