The news that Tom DeLay has dropped out of his race for re-election to Congress must have come as a grief in the Texas oil patch, where DeLay has been point man in the industry's efforts to milk the public purse. But it's good news for oil consumers, which means the rest of us. Without a man of DeLay's potent skills protecting oil interests, there's at least a chance that our lawmakers might begin to pass measures that are actually in the nation's best interest, not the industry's.
Before he got besmirched in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, DeLay benefited hugely from his service to Big Oil. In the six years ending in 2004, he took in $498,375 in campaign donations from the industry. And while he was under indictment and still fighting for re-election last year, he raised a legal defense fund of $590,520, much of it from his friends in the business.
DeLay earned every penny. As the House majority leader known as "The Hammer," he was the driving force behind the massive 2003 energy bill providing $23.5 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas companies, along with $5.4 billion in grants, subsidies, and loan guarantees. But the bill also included legal immunity from $29 billion in lawsuits facing the makers of MTBE, a gasoline additive and possible carcinogen that has contaminated groundwater in hundreds of communities across the nation. That provision was too much for many lawmakers, and President Bush called DeLay personally to ask him to drop it. By no coincidence, however, the biggest maker of MTBE, Lyondell Chemical Corporation, is based in DeLay's Texas district and was shaping up as the biggest single contributor to his 2004 re-election campaign, and DeLay refused to back down. The bill ultimately stalled in the Senate. DeLay's fight to shield MTBE makers kept any energy bill from passage for two years. When he finally gave up in 2005, the clause was dropped and the bill passed.
DeLay also mustered 226 Republican votes to defeat a 2005 bill that would have outlawed price gouging on gasoline, heating oil, and other oil products during an energy crisis. And it was DeLay who sneaked another plum for the industry into the 2005 energy bill -- the last-minute insertion in conference committee of $500 million in research funding for "ultra deepwater" oil and gas drilling. The language was designed to steer the money to a consortium of big oil companies based in DeLay's district.
Will Congress be any less generous to Big Oil now that Tom DeLay is gone? No one can say for sure. But hope springs eternal.