Hastert Tries New Approach to Rising Gas Prices

Posted October 24, 2005 at 6:43pm

House GOP leaders, concerned that high gasoline and heating-oil prices are hurting their standing with the American public, plan to unveil an initiative today to urge big oil companies to build new refineries in the United States while the industry’s profits are soaring.

With third-quarter earnings reports expected out from the major oil companies this week and record earnings predicted by industry analysts, the GOP leadership sees the new initiative as a way to insulate the party from any political fallout from high oil prices.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and other top Republicans will warn oil industry executives that reports of price gouging in the wake of a calamitous hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, home to and conduit for a significant portion of the oil used in the mainland United States, will not be tolerated by Congress.

Hastert will also suggest that hearings could be held by House committees, with Energy and Commerce being one potential venue, if Republican leaders fail to see investments by the oil industry in new refineries, especially in the wake of recent legislation that will make it easier for the companies to do so.

“These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures,” Hastert said in a statement from his office.

“But [the oil companies] need to do more to inform the American people about what they are doing to bring down the cost of oil and natural gas. When are new refineries going to be built? When is the Alaska pipeline deal going to be signed? Are they doing everything they can to make sure consumers get a fair deal on energy costs? In short, these companies need to invest in America’s energy infrastructure and resources.”

Hastert added: “Increasing capacity and improving refineries will do much to boost supplies so that consumers do not feel such a big [financial] pinch.”

New data collected by GOP pollster David Winston, a Roll Call contributing writer, indicate that a large majority of Americans of all political stripes believe that the cause of high gas prices is gouging by the oil companies, not supply shortages, rising demand and production shortfall.

In a poll of 1,000 registered voters conducted in mid-October, 59 percent of respondents believed high gas prices were the result of price gouging by the oil companies, while 33 percent agreed it was the result of growing demand or damage to production facilities in the Gulf Coast region.

House Democrats, for their part, scoffed at the GOP claims to be the defender of the public from oil companies.

“Republicans are desperately trying to distract the American people from the fact that they march lock step with their oil- industry cronies, rather than joining Democrats in working for common sense solutions to high gas prices,” said Jennifer Crider, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “The American people will not be fooled.”