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Published: Thursday, 11/3/2005

Oily profits

THE greatly increased profits that American oil companies are reporting for the past few months can be attributed to only one source the shakedown at the pump that all Americans have been subjected to in the name of Hurricane Katrina.

Houston-based ConocoPhillips announced last week that its third-quarter profits almost doubled, paying its stockholders 87 percent more per share than they received last year for that period. London-based BP stated its profits were up 34 percent. Exxon Mobil s third-quarter profits were up 75 percent; Shell s, up 68 percent.

Now, let s see, where did these profits come from? Will the companies and their happy stockholders have to give any of it back to consumers? Don t hold your breath.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, has introduced a bill that would slap a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, but its chances of passage in a Republican-controlled Congress are zero.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, last week asked three Senate committees to investigate the jump in energy prices, but that could take a year.

House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, said oil companies should invest in the United States by increasing refinery capacity and exploration, but that will be up to them.

Though gasoline prices have fallen recently, consumers shouldn t let that mollify their ire at these astronomic profits. It may be utterly unthinkable, but is there any consideration that these flush companies, instead of paying fatter dividends to their stockholders, might plow some of their ill-gotten gains back to the consumer in the form of even lower prices at the pump?

That would be a popular move, one for them to put in the bank of public opinion in advance of the next horror that will strike the American consumer: stunningly higher heating costs this winter. Or are we just going to keep paying for two more winter quarters of higher oil company profits?

Where is the Congress? Where is the White House?



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