Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said former President George W. Bush made oil companies the "kings of the world."
But the head of the oil and gas industry's major trade association says the Bush administration actually left the oil drillers locked out, standing outside the palace gates.
Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, believes the United States' energy policy has been "fundamentally dysfunctional" through three Republican administrations, one Democratic administration and the beginning of the Obama administration.
"For 25 years in this country we've talked about [limiting] reliance on non-U.S. sources, but the policy of the United States was to limit and put off-limits our very domestic sources that would have met that demand," Gerard said yesterday at the U.S. Energy Association's "State of the Industry" conference at the National Press Club.
Salazar and environmentalists have accused Bush, himself a former oilman, of giving carte blanche to the oil and gas industry. But Gerard said the policy of putting resources off-limits was pursued even when Republicans controlled Congress and Bush was in the White House, giving the GOP control of all the levers of federal lawmaking.
"It absolutely was, it was congressional policy," Gerard said, "And administrative policy, I might add."
Gerard did not offer examples but said party politics shouldn't matter when it comes to energy issues.
"This issue transcends partisan politics," Gerard said. "We need to think comprehensively about energy."
And in his prepared remarks, Gerard said, "We have implemented policies in the past that have discouraged domestic development, which were followed by a rise in petroleum imports pushing them well over 60 percent of U.S. consumption and adding greater volatility in energy markets. This was not what America wanted or needed then, either."
But in Washington, energy is viewed as partisan, with most Republicans supporting the oil companies and Democrats generally supporting environmental groups, in an ongoing tug-of-war over environmental restrictions and access to federal lands.
Republicans have received 75 percent of the oil and gas industry's $245 million in political contributions during the past 20 years, according to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan Web site that tracks campaign finance.
And only 13 Republican candidates were endorsed last year for federal office by the League of Conservation Voters, among 65 total candidates who received endorsements.
On the first day of Bush's administration, his chief of staff put the brakes on numerous Clinton-era environmental policies that were in the works.
The administration then peeled away numerous restrictions on oil and gas production administratively while also pushing for an energy bill enshrining many of the new policies in law.
The 2005 energy bill passed by the Republican Congress and signed by Bush blocked new regulations on drilling and called for speeding up permits for production.
In the past year, however, Obama's top lieutenants have put in place more limits on production. For example, Salazar made his "kings of the world" comment at a news conference last week announcing that drilling on public lands would be subject to more reviews.