A SO-CALLED energy bill that just passed the House of Representatives is a brazen attempt to lavish unneeded federal aid on the oil industry, which was enjoying record profits even before hurricanes Katrina and Rita demolished the Gulf Coast.
The legislation, mistitled the "Gasoline for America's Security Act," would do nothing to reduce the price of fuel for motorists, while weakening several key environmental laws.
Its author is Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican friend of Big Oil from - where else? - Texas, who is chairman of the House Energy Committee.
The premise of the measure is a false one - that environmental restrictions have prevented the oil industry from building new refineries. The bill would give refiners tax breaks to build new plants and would fast-track the permit process, to the detriment of taxpayers and local communities.
Only one refinery permit has been issued over the past 25 years, but that is because refiners chose to increase capacity by expanding existing facilities. Refining capacity now is very tight, and Big Oil actually prefers to keep it that way because it boosts their profits, even as it encourages shortages.
According to an analysis by the Denver Post, the refiners' gross profit margins on each barrel of gasoline have more than tripled in the past year and were rising steadily even before the hurricanes damaged oil infrastructure in and around the Gulf of Mexico.
At the same time, four of the top five oil companies - ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips - reported hefty jumps in first-half profits this year. Net income for ConocoPhillips was up 65 percent; Shell 39 percent; ExxonMobil 38 percent, and BP 31 percent.
Together, these four firms plus Chevron own 42 percent of U.S. refining capacity, which increased by nearly 7 percent from 1997 to 2004.
Thus, it is the refiners, rather than the corner filling stations, who are netting record gasoline profits: $1 for every gallon today, nearly three times the profit a year ago.
A provision to weaken the federal New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act has been stripped from the bill, but it still contains a number of other noxious proposals, including one that would push back deadlines for compliance with ozone cleanup nationwide.
Using high fuel prices as a pretext to gut environmental laws is as unconscionable as it is sneaky.
Hurricane relief for people is one thing, but the oil companies are making enough money to fend for themselves.
The Senate should deep-six Mr. Barton's scheme.