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Big Oil’s Ebbing Influence

The oil industry vows to fight President Obama’s budget proposal unveiled yesterday that would raise $32 billion by taxing oil companies that failed to pay royalties on Gulf of Mexico oil leases issued between 1996 and 2000. Whether they can succeed is another question.

The American Petroleum Institute is objecting, and the major oil companies potentially on the hook are among the biggest of the big lobbying powers in Washington: BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell. They will “hide behind the independent oil companies,” predicts Erich Pica, an analyst for Friends of the Earth, “and threw in everything but the kitchen sink.”

These five companies spent a combined $59.4 billion in lobbying in 2008 alone, according to figures from the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.org, these five companies have plenty of money to throw in. Several prominent former Democrat legislators and staff members lobbied on behalf of these companies in 2008 — including former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux (Shell), former Hill staffer Holly Bode (Exxon), who previously worked for Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.); and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Paul Brathwaite (BP).

But Big Oil’s ability to prevent the plugging of this loophole could be waning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) targeted royalty relief in her “first 100 days” agenda when Democrats took control of Congress in 2007. The House approved a rollback, but it narrowly failed to gain Senate approval. Since then, pro-oil Republican Sen.Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Wayne Allard of Colorado have been replaced by green Democrats, Tom and Mark Udall, respectively. Pencil in Minnesota’s DFL Senator-in-waiting Al Franken in place of former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman, and as Daniel Weiss of the Center for American put it, ”Big oil faces an uphill climb.”

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