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Darrell Issa's Big Oil Road Show

by: Lucas O'Connor

Wed May 04, 2011 at 14:30:00 PM PDT


Sign the petition telling Darrell Issa Frack No! before his hearing on Friday.

There seems to be a bit of confusion at Oversight Headquarters as to what Friday's field hearing in Bakersfield is going to be about. Last Friday, the hearing was "Pathways To Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing And Other New Technologies." By Monday, it had changed to "Can New And Safe Oil Extraction Technologies Help Address Gas Prices?" And yesterday, it was back to "Pathways To Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing And Other New Technologies." The renewed focus comes with word that the witness lineup for Issa's hearing will be Bakersfield's Republican state assemblymember and four representatives from oil and gas companies, including major Republican donors and representatives from Big Oil front groups.

Back in December, Darrell Issa sent his now-infamous letter to corporate lobbyists and industry groups asking them to recommend hearings for the Oversight Committee. Among the recipients were Big Oil groups with benign names representing a wide range of notorious organizations. For example, the Independent Petroleum Association of America. In its response, the IPAA focused on rolling back EPA regulations and streamlining the permitting process for both offshore and onshore drilling. Who is the IPAA?

Lucas O'Connor :: Darrell Issa's Big Oil Road Show
The IPAA receives funding from a wide range of oil companies, including major funding (tens of thousands dating back to at least 1991) from Larry Nichols, the Chairman and CEO of Devon Energy. Larry Nichols is a leading GOP moneyman in Oklahoma, personally donating out of his own pocket more than $380,000 over the years to fund Republican candidates, candidate committees, and affiliated PACs across the country. Separately, Devon Energy's PAC last cycle contributed more than $300,000 to Republican campaigns and campaign committees, including $11,000 directly to Oversight Committee members.

And testifying at Darrell Issa's hearing on increased oil drilling and fracking this Friday will be William Whitsitt, Devon Energy's Executive Vice President for Public Affairs.

Next up on the witness list is Tupper Hull, a Vice President at the Western States Petroleum Association. Members of the WSPA include heavy hitters like BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Occidental, Shell, Tesoro and Venoco. It's a pretty definitive who's who list of Big Oil power players, not to mention a group that dropped more than $6 million combined on Prop 23 last year. It's also a group that really likes writing checks to Darrell Issa, year over year, including:

Chevron $23,500
ConocoPhillips $5,500
ExxonMobil $22,000
Occidental $7,000
Valero $19,500

And that's not even beginning to explore the money they've sunk into other committee members.

Taking the same dais will be Steve Layton, president of Bakersfield-based E&B Natural Resources Management Corp, an oil and gas drilling company operating in several states. According to its website, E&B is owned by the New York-based Galesi Group, whose principal and CEO is Francesco Galesi. Aside from the obvious vested interest for E&B in expanding drilling, Galesi is a major political donor who has leaned significantly Republican as time has gone by in several decades of political contributions, including support for Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and disgraced former Congressman John Sweeney.

Finally, Rock Zierman, Chief Executive Officer of the California Independent Petroleum Association. Last cycle, CIPA, which lists fracking as its top federal priority, was good for a $2,500 check to Issa and nearly $240,000 to California state candidates -- 86% to Republicans, including $4,000 to fellow witness Asm. Shannon Grove.

Helping to organize Issa's field hearing and scheduled to attend himself is California Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is the Majority Whip for the Republicans in the House, and a huge friend of Big Oil. His campaign collected more than $100,000 from the Energy and Natural Resources sector last cycle, including big checks from Koch Industries, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, IPAA, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Tesoro, and Valero. He's also cashed $15,000 from CIPA.

There are also less direct ways that Big Oil is influencing Issa and the Oversight Committee. The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association also received Issa's letter in December. Another umbrella group for a wide range of oil companies, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association has deeper pockets thanks to major backers. Founded before the 2006 cycle, the organization functions largely as a mouthpiece for Koch Industries and major oil companies like Valero and Tesoro who provide major funding each year. We know very well that these groups have a major vested interest in opening up the process for more oil drilling and rolling back environmental protections because just those three combined spent more than $6.5 million last cycle trying to pass Proposition 23 in California. The so-called "Dirty Energy" proposition sought to indefinitely suspend landmark environmental protections passed in 2006. Prop 23 lost by a 23% margin despite the efforts of these groups, but Big Oil isn't giving up that easily.

Speaking of Koch Industries, they've been dutifully funding the Republican members of the Oversight Committee ahead of this Congress. Just in this past cycle, the Koch machine helped fund a dozen Republicans on the committee, including a combined $15,000 to Issa's campaign. Other committee members receiving funding from the Kochtopus last cycle:

Patrick McHenry $10,000 (PAC)
John Mica $2,500
Connie Mack $7,500
Tim Walberg $10,000
Jim Lankford $5,000
Pat Meehan $7,500
Trey Gowdy $5,000
Dennis Ross $10,000
Frank Guinta $5,000
Blake Farenthold $5,000
Mike Kelly $5,000

But in fairness, it wasn't just the Kochs who were busy funding committee members. Last year Valero dropped $10,000 into Darrell Issa's campaign and spread another $10,000 between other committee Republicans.

Issa also last year sent a copy of his letter to the grandaddy of Big Oil lobbyist shops -- The American Petroleum Institute -- which also targeted an easier permitting process for oil drilling, complaints about the Endangered Species Act, EPA enforcement of existing environmental protections, and concern that climate change worries will get in the way of more drilling. API has been lobbying for the oil industry for more than 90 years, and has foregrounded the promotion of fracking as a policy priority. API has spent at least $3 million annually lobbying Congress since 2003, including $21.5 million since just 2008.

What doesn't currently appear on the witness list is anyone who might speak to the risks involved in fracking, or mention that there has yet to be a comprehensive study of the potential environmental impacts. Nobody who will look at the major fracking spill last month in Pennsylvania as a warning, just like Darrell Issa still thinks the Gulf Oil Spill is an indication that we should increase offshore oil drilling. None of it makes any objective sense, but after collecting hundreds of thousands from Big Oil and the Koch Brothers, maybe it doesn't matter anymore if what you say makes any sense.

I manage IssaWatch.com for the Courage Campaign. You can join us on Facebook and Twitter.

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