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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oily Guys

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There are very good reasons why oily guys have been stereotyped as the sorts of villains who twirl their mustaches and tie innocent young women to railroad tracks. But now, as we are nearing the end of eight years of government of, for and by the oil industry, we may have finally reached the point in our history where the oily guys who run Big Oil no longer have any power to fool us.

With $4-a-gallon gas and the prospect of continuing price increases to $5 and above before the end of the summer, politicians are having a tougher time duping us into supporting more financial giveaways to the oil companies. Amazingly, though, Republicans keep on trying.

Both President George W. Bush and presumed Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, who seems determined to live up to Democratic accusations he is running for Bush’s third term, are trying to use high gas prices to justify allowing the oil companies to threaten our coastlines with environmental devastation to boost oil profits even more. National Republicans are following the lead of Wisconsin Republicans in standing foursquare behind the oil companies, and the public be damned. During the last state budget negotiations, Wisconsin Assembly Republicans stood up to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and Senate Democrats, who wanted to pass a state windfall tax on the oil companies’ record profits that are, simply put, the largest profits any companies have ever made in the history of the world.

We had Republican legislators standing up in the Assembly making speeches about how the largest profits in the history of the world weren’t actually all that excessive. Alternately, Republicans argued we shouldn’t pass a windfall tax on the oil companies because the oil companies were run by such big crooks they would just illegally pass the tax on to consumers.

Doyle’s windfall tax contained a prohibition making it illegal to pass the tax along at the pump and included penalties for companies that broke the law. Republicans said the companies would find devious ways to act illegally and pass the tax along anyway.

Their argument basically was, “We know what big crooks the oil companies we support are and, trust us, they’ll find some way to break the law.”

In a corrupt political world, it takes one to know one.

More Handouts to Big Oil
Now, in an election year yet, national Republicans have decided to try to eliminate the ban on offshore oil drilling that has protected our coastlines for more than a quarter of a century. Congress has banned offshore drilling since 1981 to protect coastal economies that depend on clean water and clean coastlines.

The first President George Bush issued the first executive order backing the ban in 1990 after the Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil off Alaska, one of the worst ecological disasters in U.S. history. Bush and McCain are counting on fading memories of TV footage of dying, oil-covered seabirds, seals and sea otters.

But coastal politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, are, for the most part, not foolish enough to support offshore drilling that could endanger high-end real estate and booming tourist beach economies. It’s one thing to devastate the habitats of seabirds, mammals and fish forever. It’s another to threaten hairy-backed high rollers wearing thongs at beach resorts.

To demonstrate how lust for higher office can distort politics, however, Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, angling for the Republican vice presidential nomination, has betrayed his own state by dropping his long-standing opposition to lifting the ban.

Let some future governor of Florida worry about an oil slick destroying Miami Beach.

The possibility of oil spills and other human-error accidents aren’t the only danger from offshore drilling. Heavy industrial activity off our shores destroys coral reefs, wetlands and other natural barriers that protect coastal communities from natural disasters such as hurricanes and typhoons.

Imagine the destruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast spread around all three U.S. coasts. Most Americans, even those who don’t worry about environmental disasters, have a more prosaic reason for rebelling against further administration giveaways to the oil companies. They know no matter how much Republicans give to those oil companies, it won’t do anything to lower gas prices.

The oil companies will continue to charge as much as the market will bear. Unfortunately, we’ve already shown them we’ll bear ridiculous price increases. And just last week, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and BP got their biggest payoffs from the Bush administration as they entered into final negotiations for their no-bid contracts to run Iraq’s oil industry.

Those are the same Western companies Saddam Hussein threw out of Iraq 36 years ago when he nationalized the oil industry. After spending 4,100 American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to get Iraq’s oil back for those companies, we’ve contributed quite enough to those oily guys.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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