Saturday, April 16, 2005

Who is Sam Bodman and Why Should You Care?

Yesterday was tax day, April 15. The big news was that the stock market took its biggest dive in two years. Fear of a possible stall in the upward trend of the US economy took its toll on investors’ greed. To me, the real story lay in the report of remarks made by a cabinet member while we were all distracted by the “big” news. The Energy Secretary made the announcement in a speech to a group of “energy company officials, industry representatives and other energy experts,” that “Americans should expect high prices for gasoline and other energy sources in the years ahead.” This message might have gotten lost in the thunder of taxes and stocks, but there was more to it than just the secretary’s warning to grin and bear it.

The Energy head, recent Bush appointee Sam Bodman, gave his idea of what to do over the long haul to help the higher-price-of-oil situation. Was it to develop alternative sources of energy, like solar power, or wind, or tides? Was it to encourage cheaper methods of using power, like hybrid vehicles etc? Nope—in true Texas Bush fashion, he said simply what we need is MORE OIL:

“As a long-term solution, Bodman said Congress should pass comprehensive energy legislation that aims to boost domestic oil, gasoline, natural gas and other energy supplies. He also said the United States needs more investment in new oil refineries, nuclear power plants, pipelines and electric transmission lines.”
Yup, that’s just what we need — more nucalur power plants with more of that material we’re trying to keep from proliferating. And more oil from the big oil companies. More oil profits. More, more, more.
I recall in the dim past of last year reading that as the price of crude oil was approaching $50 per barrel, the oil companies would adjust the retail price of gasoline commensurately with that increase. Then I read that these oil companies were making windfall profits despite the increase they were paying for crude. There were senate hearings about this, and we don’t hear about those anymore. In fact, in an article called “Big Oil’s Burden of Too Much Cash,” Jad Mouawad writes

“Thanks to crude prices that averaged $41 a barrel in New York last year, the world's 10 biggest oil companies earned more than $100 billion in 2004, a windfall greater than the economic output of Malaysia. Together, their sales are expected to exceed $1 trillion for 2004, which is more than Canada's gross domestic product.”

I’m seeing a trend here: the media report, by rote, that crude oil prices are rising, retail gas prices go up, and the oil companies who refine the product are paying less of an increase for the crude than they are charging, percentage-wise, for the refined product. They’re making the big profit, which is going to their executives and shareholders—a relative few--and draining the consumer, who is pretty much everyone. Yet “everyone” sits by and watches this milking continue.

I could go on with this story of lines that we are fed by the oil industry and their bought-and-paid-for congressional and administrative reps. I could tell you how US oil production relates to Mideast oil production, that the biggest oil reserves in the world lie under Azerbaijan, where Rumsfeld just stopped off on his way back from visiting Baghdad. I could even quote experts about the inevitable eventuality of running out of oil, literally reading “empty” on the gas tank of the world, and how so little is being done too late by our “leaders” to avoid this calamity.

I could write about all of the above, but what’s really striking to me at this moment, after the announcement yesterday about let’s get used to high oil prices, is the background of this new energy guy. It’s not hard to check him out, since his nomination was fairly ridiculous to begin with. According to Dale Allen Pfeiffer in

“Sam Bodman was virtually unknown to energy industry insiders and to Washington energy policy specialists prior to his nomination.”
Among other pronouncements, Jason Leopold in states

“one of the President's most outrageous decisions (besides naming Alberto Gonzales, who concocted a legal case for torturing foreign prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General) has got to be choosing 66 year-old Sam Bodman to serve as Secretary of Energy. This is a guy who for a dozen years ran a Texas-based chemical company that spent years on the top five lists of the country's worst polluters.”
So the Secretary of Energy had no energy background, and at least headed one of the biggest polluting entities in the country. And his effort to soothe his fellow Americans over the high price of oil was to say that we might as well get used to it for years to come. And no one in congress is challenging his remarks or asking for hearings into oil company windfall profits, or looking for other ways to solve the energy crisis than screwing up acres of wilderness in Alaska for a veritable teacup’s worth of new oil?

I understand that in representative government we have to allow our elected officials to take the ball and run with it. It’s kind of like the real estate agent who takes you around to look for a home to buy—the agent is paid by the seller, not the buyer, so who’s the agent working for, you or the one you’re buying the house from? Who are our elected representatives working for? Who contributed more to their campaigns? You, or big oil?

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