Question: Why did several dozen corporate executives of 13 oil companies and various utility companies last night help celebrate the board of directors' meeting of the Alliance to Save Energy?
Answer: Everybody knows that as long as the U.S. is conserving its use of foreign oil, not domestic, it's okay for the kings of the wells to rally a conservation group.
"I think the country is better off using less foreign oil," said Charles Di Bona, president of the American Petroleum Institute, not unexpectedly. "That's why we're investing so much here and drilling like mad. And more access to public lands would even be better."
The Alliance to Save Energy is a nonprofit group with heavy business representation, started four years ago by Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) and the late senator Hubert Humphrey to "increase the efficiency of energy use." And last night it sponsored a symposium, reception and dinner at the World Bank for the oil people, some ambassadors and Secretary of State Alexander M.Haig Jr.
The symposium was long, the reception short, and the dinner starred Haig promoting the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia.
This was not your basic Washington social crowd. The guest list read like a Who's Who in the American oil industry. And there wasn't any chatter about summer homes or next week's charity ball. This was a heavy three-piece pin-stripe group, sprinkled with very few dresses. Discussions centered around issues like overconsumption, consumption and underconsumption.
"The symposium was a little technical," understated a representative of the French Embassy.
For a long minute, no one in the audience had a question to ask, when given the chance. Finally came one about developing countries from Joan Braden of the American Petroleum Institute. All four members of the panel jumped to answer it.
Later: "Joanie darling," said Percy, hugging and kissing "Joanie" in the receiving line, "thank you for asking that question."
"I knew you'd ask a question," chimed in Robert Hormats, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs.
"Why?" asked Braden. "Because I have a big mouth?" Insiders' laughter.
Percy was in his element, pumping the hand of every person there, joking about how he was missing a senators' dinner with the president.
Asked if a push for conservation conflicted with the world oil glut and recent drop in OPEC prices, Percy said, "Everybody knows the glut is temporary. Does anyone really believe that those pumps can't be shut off at any time?"
At that he bounded down the World Bank's winding stairs to meet Al Haig -- in front of the network cameras.