The Blame Game

Political pundits have begun to proclaim that higher energy prices will be a major campaign issue in the US elections this fall.

Political pundits have begun to proclaim that higher energy prices will be a major campaign issue in the US elections this fall.

More attention to US energy needs would be good, but at this point, it appears unlikely that prices will be an issue during the critical period of the presidential and congressional election campaigns early next fall.

Gasoline prices are likely to subside by then, or at least motorists will have become inured to them. It will be too early in the season for a home heating oil crisis or for homeowners to feel the bite of higher natural gas prices.

Some analysts have predicted electrical power brownouts and blackouts this summer, but if they occur, the primary focus won't be on the oil and gas industry.

However, Washington politicians think energy could become an election issue, and just in case, they are pointing fingers right and left.

Recriminations

Republicans blame the Clinton administration for failing to provide leadership on energy issues. There's some validity to that. It took the administration forever to draft an electric market decontrol policy, and it has yet to deliver a long-promised marginal well royalty relief proposal.

Democrats' blame Republicans because the GOP hasn't passed much energy legislation during its control of Congress.

Democrats and Vice Pres. Al Gore in particular also are blaming the oil industry. The administration was quick to ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the run-up in gasoline prices in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas.

Gore said "enormous and completely unreasonable" oil company profits "suggest that Big Oil is gouging American consumers."

Energy Sec. Bill Richardson testified at a congressional hearing last week where Democrats railed about first-quarter oil company profits soaring 200-500%.

Richardson knew those numbers were sharply higher because companies had little or no profits when oil prices were at record lows last year. But he didn't correct those egregious misstatements. Better to let the oil companies take the heat than the administration.

Gore's problem

A few years ago, Gore wrote a global-warming doomsday book, "Earth in the Balance."

Last week, it appeared that higher gasoline prices might have his presidential campaign hanging in the balance.

Republicans are laboring to link Gore with the current energy problems.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) charged, "Consumers in my district are getting gouged-perhaps I should say 'Gored'-at the gas pump."

At a congressional hearing, Republicans repeatedly asked Richardson if Gore's book didn't advocate higher gasoline taxes. Richardson finally replied, "The vice-president does not favor higher gasoline prices for consumers."

The energy fracas prompted Gore to issue an energy policy aimed at reducing global warming and increasing alternative fuel use. The only bone for the industry was an extension of royalty relief for deepwater Gulf of Mexico gas fields.

Another effect of gasoline politics is that Richardson is rumored to have been dropped from Gore's list of potential running mates.

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