Top Oil Company Executives Retool Responses on Energy Task Force Roles

Thursday, December 1, 2005

It's time for another installment in the saga about the energy executives and the vice president.

The story began last month, when executives were asked by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) at a hearing if their companies participated in Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001. The chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips Co. and Chevron Corp. said no. The president of Shell Oil Co. said his company did not participate "to my knowledge," and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know.

But a White House document subsequently obtained by The Washington Post showed that officials from Exxon Mobil, Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil and BP America met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.

Last week, the Republican staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee suggested that the executives did not mislead the committee because whatever they did with the task force did not meet the legal definition of "participate."

After the Post report, the energy panel asked the executives to clarify their testimony. The committee released the carefully crafted responses yesterday.

Ross Pillari, chief executive of BP America, said in his letter that company representatives met with task force staff "and provided them with comments on a range of energy policy matters." He said his response at the hearing -- that he did not know -- was truthful.

John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil, said that to his knowledge the company did not meet with the task force. However, he said, Shell representatives "did meet with the administration -- including the Vice President and his staff -- on a broad range of energy policy issues."

James J. Mulva, chairman of ConocoPhillips, said that he answered the question "based upon my knowledge of Phillips' conduct prior to the merger with Conoco and on my knowledge of ConocoPhillips' conduct subsequent to the merger." Officials of Conoco met with task force staff before the merger.

Chevron, whose statement was previously released, said the company provided written recommendations on energy policy to President Bush but did not participate in task force meetings. Exxon Mobil, which also previously made its statement public, said the company did not participate in the task force; but the company said it presented information on global energy supply and demand to an administration official.

Lautenberg, who has asked the Justice Department to investigate the executives' testimony, said he is not satisfied. "These responses are corporate doublespeak that only further demonstrate the need for a criminal investigation," he said yesterday.

-- Justin Blum

© 2005 The Washington Post Company