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US: Testimony by Oil Executives Is Challenged

by Edmund L. AndrewsNew York Times
November 17th, 2005

Senators from both parties demanded Wednesday that several oil executives explain statements they made to Congress last week about their ties to the energy task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"I join my Democratic colleagues in demanding that these oil executives be brought back to Congress, sworn in and forced to testify again," said Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader.

At issue is a long-running dispute over Mr. Cheney's energy task force, which worked mostly behind closed doors in 2001 and 2002 and developed a broad array of industry-friendly energy proposals.

Last week, chief executives from five major oil companies told a joint hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee that their companies had not been involved in the task force. But on Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that a White House document showed that executives from at least four companies had met with Andrew Lundquist, the head of Mr. Cheney's task force.

Two companies, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips, acknowledged that their executives had met with Mr. Lundquist. But both companies insisted that their executives had told the truth.

Democrats and many environmental groups have long charged that the secretive task force worked hand-in-glove with oil companies.

The White House fought a long and mostly successful court battle to avoid releasing information on who had participated in the meetings.

None of the executives testified under oath, which could have exposed them to charges of perjury. Indeed, the co-chair of the hearing, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, firmly rejected demands by Democrats to put the executives under oath.

At the hearing, Lee R. Raymond, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, said his company had not been involved with the task force.

On Wednesday, Exxon-Mobil executives said Mr. Raymond had testified accurately. But the company did confirm that its head of government relations, James Rouse, met with Mr. Lundquist on Feb. 14, 2001.

Another executive caught in the crossfire is James J. Mulva, chief executive of ConocoPhillips. Mr. Mulva testified that his company had not met with the task force.

On Wednesday, the company said Mr. Mulva had been correct - but only about the part of the company he had led in 2001, Phillips Petroleum, which merged with Conoco.

Jeff Callender, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips, said Mr. Mulva had been "unaware" that Archie Dunham, then chief executive of Conoco, and Alan Huffman, another senior executive, had "reportedly appeared at task force meetings."

Mr. Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, said he wanted to recall all the executives and question them under oath. He also linked the issue of their role in setting energy policy with the recent surge in oil profits.

Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, stopped short of saying that the executives should be summoned back but made his displeasure clear.

Mr. Domenici and Senator Jeff Bingaman, the ranking Democrat on the Senate energy committee, demanded a "prompt explanation, in writing, of these inconsistencies" and would consider "further appropriate action" once the explanations had been given.



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