Tawdry tricks trample facts in energy politics

Sept. 10, 2007
The vicious fraud that masquerades as energy politics is testing limits of acceptability in the US Congress.

The vicious fraud that masquerades as energy politics is testing limits of acceptability in the US Congress.

The Department of Justice’s antitrust division and Federal Trade Commission have determined yet again that the oil and gas industry hasn’t manipulated gasoline prices.

And, yet again, congressional nags won’t believe it. In fact, one of them has sprung a devious trap.

Justice and FTC on Aug. 30 reported results of a study finding that market forces accounted for increases in the price of gasoline in the late spring and early summer of 2006 (OGJ Online, Aug. 31, 2007).

This, said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), showed the Bush administration to be concerned only about protecting big oil companies.

“The fact remains that last year, when the FTC examined price-gouging under definitions supplied by Congress, the commission found evidence of gouging by refiners and other big oil companies,” Stupak said.

This “fact” omits much.

Here, for example, is the definition of “gouging” to which he refers, which Congress added to a 2006 appropriations bill: “Any finding that the average price of gasoline available for sale to the public in September 2005 [after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast production equipment and refineries], or thereafter in a market area located in an area designated as a state or national disaster area because of Hurricane Katrina, or in any other area where price-gouging complaints have been filed because of Hurricane Katrina with a state consumer protection agency, exceeded the average price of such gasoline in that area for the month of August 2005.”

Although accompanied by limited exclusions, this definition allows a predictable market response to Hurricane Katrina to be construed as “gouging.”

So, yes, FTC found in its study of post-Katrina price hikes that, under a perverse definition of the term, “gouging” occurred in 15 instances. But it emphasized that other factors explained the price increases and concluded that no illegal manipulation occurred (OGJ, June 5, 2006, p. 23).

Stupak’s “fact” omitted that context, too.

The omissions show the congressman to be interested less in facts, and therefore in constructive energy policy, than in tawdry political tricks.

(Online Aug. 31, 2007; author’s e-mail: [email protected])