Palin to play ball with Big Oil

Sarah Palin gets a lot of credit for standing up to Big Oil in Alaska, but if she and John McCain win the White House, don't expect some of her more populist policies to survive the move to Washington.

In her two years as Alaska's governor, Palin is credited with being tough on big oil, to the benefits of her constituents and bucking her own party.

In late 2007 Palin succeeded in raising the tax on oil companies from 22.5 to 25% of net profits. Alaska also added a clause increasing the tax for each dollar oil goes above $52 a barrel - essentially, a windfall profits tax.

Palin also killed a deal struck between Exxon Mobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips and Alaska's previous governor to build a natural gas pipeline across the state and into Canada.

Analysts said corruption tainted that deal.

Palin renegotiated a new deal with a Canadian company, TransCanada, to build the $26 billion pipeline, which analysts say - if completed - is better financially for the state.

But analysts - and the McCain campaign itself - are quick to note that Palin will toe the line on the energy policies of her potential boss, who unlike Barack Obama does not favor a windfall profits tax.

Christopher Ruppel, an energy analyst at Execution LLC, a broker and research firm for institutional investors like hedge and mutual funds is more concerned with McCain's energy policy than Palin's past spats with the oil industry. "We don't think she will represent a big change from that."

The McCain campaign, which speaks for Palin, confirmed that stance.

"'The governor supports the campaign's positions," said Doug Holtz-Eakin, a McCain senior advisor.

Palin certainly has experience in dealing with energy issues in Alaska. But despite her drill baby comments, it's hard to tell if the oil industry will see her as an ally - a la Dick Cheney who ran Haliburton, an oil services company - or whether her previous tax and pipeline decisions will label her a threat.

'It's mixed, I haven't picked up a consensus view," said Amy Myers Jaffe, a fellow in energy studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

Exxon Mobil, which currently has an $800 million lawsuit filed against the state over the revoking of a gas field permit, declined to comment on Palin. Calls to Conoco and BP were not returned. The American Petroleum Institute also declined comment.

Jaffe said Palin shouldn't get too much credit for raising the oil tax, noting that everyone from Hugo Chavez to the Canadian government hiked taxes as oil prices skyrocketed.

"Even the Bush administration raised royalty fees," she said. "She didn't do anything everyone else didn't do."

Other analysts echoed that sentiment.

"When people say 'I stuck it to the oil companies,' that is misleading," said Fadel Gheit, a senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer. "She is basically doing what is popular."

The tax may have been popular with Alaska's voters, but it was not popular within Palin's own party - many Republican state senators voted against the tax.

Holtz-Eakin, the McCain campaign spokesman, also said Palin's decision to scrap the pipeline deal highlighted her ability to clean up Washington.

"She threw out the whole thing and redid it, which made sense," he said.

As to whether Palin can bring more experience in energy issues to the White House than her rival Joe Biden can, most analysts didn't see it that way.

"Biden has extensive experience in dealing with energy and geopolitical issues due to his long record in the Senate," said Execution's Ruppel.

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