Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why Sen. Giessel Was Wrong Not To Swear In Oil Company Witnesses In April 2014

[This leads up to an LA Times article on oil company deception about climate change. You can skip down to the bottom, but I'm trying to tie a number of things together.]

In April 2014 there was an Alaska Senate committee hearing on SB 21 - the bill that gave oil companies huge tax credits and is now aggravating the Alaska budget situation already hurt by falling oil prices.  Sen. Cathy Giessel was the chair.

Sen. Hollis French requested that witnesses be sworn in.  Giessel responded in part:
“We are to conduct ourselves with some decorum, and to spring that on people who are coming to testify would simply be unprofessional of us,” Giessel said. “I’m not an attorney, as the previous speaker is, but it is my understanding that the preparation for testimony under oath is a different type of preparation than simply coming and providing information.” [emphasis added]
My original post on this at the time has much more detail.  I did point out at the time that the oil companies were not "simply providing information" and linked to the extensive presentations they had prepared.

Giessel is one of the oil industry's strongest  supporters in the legislature.  Pat Forgey, in a 2013 article on the oil industry's influence in the legislature, wrote:
"Next, Senate Bill 21 went to the Senate Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage. Giessel is married to Richard S. Giessel, who manages R&M Consulting's Construction Services business. The company touts its petroleum ties on the firm’s website, starting with construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline and continuing with recent work on various gas pipeline proposals.
Cathy Giessel's financial disclosure forms show Richard Giessel was paid between $200,000 and $500,000 last year."
Forgery's article looks at the lax conflict of interest rules that allow legislators with such clear conflicts to participate this way in the legislature.

Why shouldn't people testify under oath?  If the oil companies had nothing to hide, then they should have said, "Of course we'll testify under oath."

So, why all this history?  

Because in many ways, we've learned that the oil companies are either just wrong or flat out lying.  Here's a Fortune piece on BP that chronicles how their actual safety programs were far sketchier than their public pronouncements.  I looked at Shell's safety plans for the Chukchi back in 2013 and found them to have a lot less operational substance than one would expect.  And when the Kulluk had problems I reported on that, including this post which shows how empty of content their press reports were. 

And today, the LA Times tells us this once again in a story about how oil companies knew that climate change was real, but their advertisements denied the science was trustworthy.
“Let’s face it: The science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil,” the ad said. “Scientists cannot predict with certainty if temperatures will increase, by how much and where changes will occur.”

One year earlier, though, engineers at Mobil Oil were concerned enough about climate change to design and build a collection of exploration and production facilities along the Nova Scotia coast that made structural allowances for rising temperatures and sea levels.
So, Alaskans, as we prepare to vote on all the members of our state house of representatives and a third of the senators in November 2016, let's get smart about the people we elect.

The oil companies are NOT our enemies, but they are more like business adversaries.  Businesses are supposed to compete, that's why the market is supposed to work.  Even when they cooperate they are always testing each other.  The Alaska Republican Party wants us to believe everything the oil industry says.  And when there is major oil related legislation, oil industry employees turn out en masse - in the middle of work days - to testify.  Of course, they want to look good to their bosses, they want to protect their jobs.  So do the legislators who get strong financial support from the oil industry.

The State is already at a disadvantage when dealing with the oil companies, because so much of our proprietary information is public information, while the oil companies won't share theirs.  If you already know all this, then help educate the doubters by helping to gather and package information that shows:

  • the oil companies aren't our friends, they're adversaries - they want our resources at the lowest cost they can get
  • oil companies are headquartered outside of Alaska and their top executives have no long term interest in Alaska's future good
  • oil company contributions to Alaskan communities are calculated business expenses to gain public support and they are all tax deductible
  • oil companies don't tell the truth all the time - sometimes they think they do, but they're wrong, and sometimes, like the LA Times piece shows, they flat out lie
  • many legislators are beholden to big oil - some are oil company employees, others have business ties to them, and others just get important campaign donations from them, and they help them get our resources cheap
  • which legislators are most compromised and which stand up for Alaskans and the future of Alaska

If any of this comes as news to you, do your duty as a citizen and get informed before you vote.


  1. Hi Steve! just dropping by on all my favorite bloggers to say Happy New Year and tell you how much I enjoy keeping up with you and your life. You always give me something to think about (and now and then, to argue with!).

  2. Thanks kathy, and may you too have a happy and healthy year. I do appreciate your comments, especially the one's that challenge me to think more.


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