RIDING THE subway to my airy downtown office while reading a Post editorial on energy makes me feel that I'm doing my share for conservation. I really get kicks from all the news coverage about oil. It's similar to my eight years on Sen. Kennedy's staff. In almost every paper there was inevitably something about the Kennedys. Big oil is the same - somebody always has something to say about it. I love it. I love it.
My mail at the office contains many missiles: notices on pending bills in Congress, reports on world oil production, solicitations for new publications, notification of a D.C. Citizens Bar meeting, a speaking request, a resume from an eager job seeker. But I'm more interested in getting up to the Hill right now. I want to get more information on Rep. Bob Eckhardt's survey of chemical dump sites.
Congressional staff members sometimes treat me much differently from when I was a staffer myself. As soon as I announce that I'm from Mobil, it's something like saying I'm from the Internal Revenue Service. But I note that I, too, worked on the Hill, and it always seems to work. All I want is a press release, and this is the wrong office and the wrong time. I return to my own office emptyhanded. Just goes to show that Big Oil can't always get what it wants. Tuesday
I arrive after my guests for a breakfast I'm hosting at the Mayflower Hotel for five Mobil scientists. They flew in from Houston to meet with the Department of Energy on the Fuel Use Act. I am always deeply impressed by these experts who design and operate those complex petrochemical facilities. They are the anonymous technological wizards on whom all of us depend for our comfortable lifestyles.
They're full of questions about what to expect when we get to DOE. Most have never even talked to "government people," so I'm seen as something of a protector. Thinking I had covered all contingencies, I'm a bit jarred when we get to DOE and preparations are made for a full stenographic recording of the meeting. The stenographer even makes a seating chart and collects business cards from each of us. It feels like a courtroom. When it's over, my Mobil experts seem to feel things went satisfactorily.
Afterward, I take them to a luncheon to hear Sen. William Roth discuss the Miltilateral Treaty negotiations, and then I go briefly back to the office. There's an annoying call from a guy who wants my to do something, but he can't tell me what it is on the phone. I hate that. Those conspiratorial deals are usually misguided and empty anyway. My "In" box is still full. One of these days I'll get organized.
Off to the Old Executive Office Building, where a group of us have been called to discuss the administration's regulatory reform proposals with Office of Management and Budget officials. Right in the middle of the presentation, someone marches up to me with one of those furtive messages I always see other people getting in meetings like this. Mine was as important, I'm sure, as all the others: "Bob, can you play tennis tonight at 9?" After a proper interval, I make a phone call and leave the meeting. I want to get home to help my son with his trigonometry. Wednesday
The first order of business is to arrange a luncheon date. Hope that good buddy on the White House staff is free so I can lobby for crude oil decontrol over a seafood salad at Paul Young's. This is the kind of day that really makes me feel good about working for Mobil.
After arranging the lunch, Peter Parham, who took my position on Kennedy's staff, calls to ask me to help prepare the senator's commencement address at Howard University. Kennedy has decided to do a major address on energy. So Peter and I try to expound on Kennedy's "fig leaf" theme, his description of Carter's proposed windfall profits tax as a token gesture. During a lunch together last week, Kennedy and I had run through a whole agenda, with me trying to give him the "real" story on oil. Sitting alone with him in his office for more than an hour was totally different from those days as a staff member, wondering what goes on behind the closed doors.
Cruising back to the office, I muse that being a U.S. senator isn't the worst job. If I were a senator from D.C., I'd have a ball. I'd take some of the brothers down to Lafayette Park and drill for oil right in front of the White House. Then we'd join OPEC and become part of the "greedy and unrealiable foreign cartel" that Carter bemoans. The cab driver agrees, saying that if he had oil in his backyard he'd be doing what OPEC is doing. Right on. Who's greedy, the consumer or OPEC?
Back at the office, Carolyn, my secretary greets me with a stack of phone messages. Why do people call during lunch hour? I only return calls during lunch to folks I don't want to talk to. Does everybody do that? Thursday
As I sit through an early morning meeting representing the Mobil Chemical Company, I wonder how many people actually understand how much they depend on chemicals for their daily conveniences. The nation's chemical companies are under close scrutiny by the Congress, thanks to Love Canal and the Valley of the Drums.
This is a national problem that's long overdue for a concerted public policy decision. Hazardous waste sites loom large in the media. Each of us is a monstrous contributor to the waste piles and to the polluting streams of trash. Since we are all part of the problem, it makes sense that we should all be part of the solution.
Back at the office, I finally get to the mail. A big ego boost: I got a call to submit a resume to be considered for a top-level post in the Carter administration. Now if only they wanted me to be secretary of the Department of Energy . . . Fantasy carries me through each day.
But I must be prepared for reality when several of us meet to discuss the windfall profits with Maudine Cooper of the Urban League. I'm pondering how to be helpful as I dash through the rain, miss catching a cab, and end up on the subway.
The Urban League wants Carter's proposed energy subsidy for the poor to be as effective as possible. Several of us contemplate the futility of that plan, with only $500 million that would be available to address the needs of 15 million low-income families. Munching on a sandwich, I insist on the trust fund approach, as with the Highway Trust Fund. Lenneal Henderson, from the Department of Energy, believes that all the economic needs of the poor deserve to be reviewed in one package. Of course, he's right. But I feel the political reality allows only the fig leaf approach, as in Carter's plan, to be adopted initially. We can get to the comprehensive program later. Friday
Another hazardous chemicals meeting. I am with representatives of chemical companies that are required to report to a congressional committee about their hazardous waste sites. This is a preliminary gathering, before the big meeting this afternoon with Rep. Eckhardt and his staff about the details of the report form sent to the nation's largest cemical manufacturers.
In the congressional hearing room, I sit with chemists and chemical engineers. These guys seem just as impressed with my ease with the Congress as I am with their technical skill. Where is the balance in managing chemical production and in meeting consumer demands for more products? Big Oil not only provides energy; it also provides some very exotic and essential chemical products that keeps life in the United States "pumping," as Brandon, my 16-year-old son, would say. Eckhardt's staff adroitly fields the flurry of questions about the forms. They emphasize the bottom-line requirement that all firms must file the forms.
There's no argument; chemical wastes must not be allowed to endanger health and the environment. The question is how to guarantee safeguards. Should the industry bear all the costs, or should our full society share in paying for protection? Chemicals serve us all. Without them, life would be absolutely barren. This issue is just as vital as the debate about energy.
Mobil's expert accompanying me is fully sensitive to Eckhardt's intentions, though he is not so sanguine as to believe that the Congress will adequately resolve this one. We both hope for a balanced approach.
Strolling across the plaza east of the Capitol, I fantasize about being a member of Congress, though I would hate to campaign, I'd rather be anointed or appointed. A Capitol policeman holds back traffic for me and bows slightly. I wonder if he thinks I'm Ron Dellums, or maybe Tip O'Neill. CAPTION: Picture, Bob Bates, a native Washingtonian, is a government relations adviser for Mobil Oil. A graduate of Dunbar High School and the University of Illinois, the 45-year-old Bates, formerly was a legislative aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, concentrating on, among other things, District of Columbia affairs and African issues.