On Wednesday, ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva outraged many on Capitol Hill when he released a statement calling it “un-American” to end subsidies to the Big 5 oil companies — ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. A press release referencing the subsidies posted on the company’s website was headlined: “ConocoPhillips Highlights Solid Results and Raises Concerns Over Un-American Tax Proposals at Annual Meeting of Shareholders.”
This position is a stark reversal from what Mulva said just a few years ago. In 2005, he testified that he agreed with President Bush’s assessment that with “$55 oil, we do not need incentives to oil and gas companies to explore.” Mulva testified, “With respect to oil and gas exploration and production, we do not need incentives.” But with oil prices now hovering around $100 per barrel, Mulva has inexplicably changed his tune.
Yesterday Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called Mulva’s “un-American” statement “truly outrageous” and said he expected Mulva to apologize. At today’s Senate Finance Committee hearing with the oil CEOs, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) repeatedly pressed Mulva for an apology, but the ConocoPhillips CEO refused to give one, claiming “nothing was intended personally” by his press release. Schumer then pressed the other oil CEOs to state their views:
SCHUMER: I want to ask you a specific question, do you think anyone who advocates cutting these subsidies is un-American? Yes or no, sir. That one we deserve a yes or no answer on, it was your release that said “un-American.” Yes or no?
MULVA: Senator, maybe you can hear me out on this because it’s a very important question.
SCHUMER: Do you apologize for it?
MULVA: Make no mistake, were these proposals enacted…they would place U.S. oil companies like our company…
SCHUMER: Sir, I have limited time. I know your view. Do you consider it American to have another view? Yes or no?
MULVA: Senator, I believe policies under consideration are going to have a very adverse impact with respect to energy policy.
SCHUMER: There are many people who disagree with that. … Do any of you others consider it un-American to be against the subsidiy that you’re for? If you do, raise your hand?[No one raises their hand.]
SCHUMER: Alright, thank you I appreciate the other four of you not labeling those who are different from you un-American.
Remarkably, after Schumer wrapped up his questioning, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) rushed to Mulva’s defense and echoed his claim that it was “un-American” to end tax breaks for big oil companies. “Now, I’d call that sort of un-American — sorry, Chuck.” Watch it:
Democrats demanded the CEOs explain why they need special tax breaks when gas prices are above $4 a gallon in much of the country and their companies are raking in record profits. Earlier this week, Democrats in both the House and Senate unveiled legislation that would close the tax loophole for the top 5 oil companies — who collectively made $36 billion in the first quarter alone — and use the money to pay down the deficit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has scheduled a vote for next week on a bill that would repeal $21 billion in oil subsidies over the next 10 years.
Ex-Shell CEO John Hofmeister recently told the National Journal, “In the face of sustained high oil prices it was not an issue — for large companies — of needing the subsidies to entice us into looking for and producing more oil.”
During his subsequent questioning, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) also tried to get Mulva to recant. Menendez was the senator who originally called the CEO out for his offensive remarks and demanded an apology. Mulva again refused to take back the statement or apologize. Menendez summed up, “So the bottom line is you’re unwilling to apologize for a company’s statement. Okay, so I’ll continue to take offense to it.”