Joe Barton -- always Big Oil's man -- from the archives

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Did you hear that great groaning sound? It was us, the people of Texas, expressing our opinion about the news that Congressman Joe Barton was fixing to investigate somebody.

“Joe Barton?” people are asking, “Is he still not in jail? What’s he doing investigating somebody else?”

According to Houston reporters, “Smoky Joe” Barton, the pollution king of Ennis, Texas, has declared that he wants to investigate Citgo Petroleum for something, possibly for “conduct unbecoming an oil company.”

Citgo, wholly owned by the revolutionary government of Venezuela, has apparently been making it possible for poor people to keep from freezing, and other high crimes. While people worry about being able to warm themselves this winter, a few progressive local governments have accepted Citgo’s offer of low-priced heating oil.

Without pointing out how ridiculous Barton’s investigation is, Citgo executives in Houston have sent Barton and Congressman Ed Whitfield, co-conspirator on this awkward investigation, a nice letter with some of the information he demanded and a commitment to provide the rest.

Citgo wrote:

“Dear Congressmen Barton and Whitfield:

“Citgo Petroleum Corporation acknowledges receipt of your letter, dated Feb. 15, 2006, requesting information about Citgo’s discount heating oil program for low-income people.

“Citgo initiated this program as a continuation of Citgo’s response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita when heating oil prices began to increase. Citgo’s interest in a discount heating oil program for low-income people began about the same time as a request from a number of United States senators asking energy companies to provide heating oil assistance to low-income people.

“Citgo’s discount heating oil program to low-income people has been implemented through existing charities that historically have provided low-cost heating oil to low-income people. These charities select the recipients of the program. Citgo shall attempt to comply with your request. We expect to be able to answer your questions and to provide you with copies of all records pertaining to the discount heating oil program in Citgo’s possession but it will take longer than a week. Citgo should be able to provide such copies to you within 30 days.”

Why anyone would be so polite to Smoky Joe Barton is a source of wonderment in Texas, where we have seen Barton take advantage of the uninformed people in his largely rural district to defend and encourage corporations that create some of the worst air quality in the state. People living in Fort Worth or Dallas in adjacent districts curse the name of Smoky Joe every time our eyes sting. Cement plants burn rubber tires in Barton’s district, and nobody, so far, has been able to get past Barton to stop them. The best, or worst, part of the joke is that Barton is chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, which is supposed to regulate air pollution!

Barton has endorsed his friend and co-thinker Tom DeLay in the Republican primaries. Legislative records indicate that Barton votes with DeLay 95 percent of the time. Even while DeLay was being socked with multiple charges of corruption with rich lobbyists, Barton organized, on Jan. 15, a luxury train ride from Fort Worth to San Antonio for wealthy backers. A ticket was $2,000!

His opponent in November, Democrat David Harris, says Joe raised and spent $700,000 (to Harris’ $7,000) during the last reporting period. Smoky Joe’s wealthy supporters undoubtedly feel that he needs the money.

More on Joe Barton -- from the archives -- click here.

Photo: Jim Lane/PW