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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Senator demands detail on U.S. oil exports

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, is demanding that the Commerce Department release detailed reports on which companies are exporting U.S. oil, how much and where it went.

Last year the nation exported 268 million barrels of oil. Shockingly, according to Dept. of Energy figures, that's about equal to the amount of oil we imported from Iraq in 2001, the year before our latest war with that country began. It's also about equal to the most optimistic guesses about production volume from ANWR, if drilling is allowed there.

In other words, if we simply held onto our own oil, the United States would have no oil interest in Iraq at all. And it would also negate any perceived need to disturb an irreplaceable wildlife refuge in the search for oil.

But the Commerce Department refused to provide the detail Wyden wants, saying it could only be released to a Congressional committee, not an individual representative. The agency also claims federal law forbids disclosure unless a finding is made that withholding the information contradicts national interests. That sounds like hogwash to me.

Wyden's request is of significant interest for two more reasons. First, it is likely that if oil drilling is approved in ANWR, much of that oil will be exported to Asia rather than sold in the U.S. Secondly, the more obvious reason is that every motorist and politician who can warm a chair is concerned about the nation's growing dependence on imported oil. It would seem to contradict our economic and political interests to worsen this imbalance by selling off our own supplies.

In a letter sent Monday to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Wyden demanded release of the information, calling it "directly relevant to the coming Congressional debate on how to address our nation's dependence on imports of oil and other petroleum products."

I'd call that an understatement. But Wyden faces an uphill battle to get a committee to demand the numbers. Though Wyden is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, it and all other Congressional committees are controlled by Republicans. And as we've seen, Republicans these days aren't very interested in facts, especially if those facts contradict their agenda.

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