The last issue of MediaNomics reported that independent
experts believed that the EPAís clean air rules were a major factor
in pushing gas prices to record levels in Chicago and Milwaukee in
June, but that ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC failed to aggressively pursue
that angle and instead repeated the Clinton administrationís
assertions that industry "price gouging" was to blame. (See "Networks
Let Government Slide Off the Hook in Gas Price Run-Up," June 30).
Now the Washington Timesís Patrice Hill has uncovered an
Energy Department memo showing that the administration was fully
aware that its rules were a problem, despite contrary public
assertions by President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Energy
Secretary Bill Richardson, EPA chief Carol Browner and other
a front-page story in the July 14 Washington Times, Hill
revealed that the memo from the Energy Departmentís acting policy
director, Melanie Kenderdine, informed officials that the EPAís
requirement that some cities use reformulated gasoline to conform
with clean air rules, was a "major reason" for the price increases.
That memo was sent on June 5, a full week before public statements
by EPA officials prompted the broadcast networks to promote the
notion that oil industry profiteering was behind the record price
hikes. "The White House has now put the oil industry on notice,"
CBSís Bob Orr stated on the June 12 Evening News. "If any
evidence of price gouging surfaces, regulators will come down hard."
At the time, most outside experts believed that regulators were
at least as responsible as the oil companies. Now, thanks to Hillís
reporting, itís apparent that the regulators themselves knew they
were at fault, and were deliberately trying to focus the publicís
anger on oil companies, despite the absence of evidence that oil
companies had done anything wrong.
"It is clear from the June 5th memo that the DOE, whose primary
responsibility is oversight of our nationís energy supply, believed
that a lack of gasoline inventories in the Midwest, as well as EPA
regulations, were not only Ďfactorsí which led to higher gasoline
prices, but in fact the primary causes," Speaker of the House Dennis
Hastert wrote in a letter to the EPAís Browner.
"Nowhere does this document indicate, or imply, that price
gouging was a factor; nor has any other federal study or
investigation," Hastert wrote, as reported by Hill. The Speaker also
wrote that public statements targeting oil companies appeared part
of a "coordinated strategy" by White House officials and others to
From June 12, when EPA officials publicly stated that their
regulations could not have been responsible for the steep rise in
prices, through June 26, the four network evening newscasts ran 16
stories about the idea that the oil companies were gouging
consumers. Now that additional facts have come to light, it remains
to be seen whether the networks will start challenging the EPAís
version of the facts. On Friday, only the CBS Evening News
bothered to mention the memo, casting it as a conflict between the
Speaker of the House and the Clinton administration. ABC and NBC
have been silent, so far.
Kudos to Patrice Hill for helping to set the record straight.