So, it's not about oil?
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Thursday, April 5, 2001
The White House, already criticized for its connections to Big Oil, now is facing renewed questions over Chevron's decision to name an oil tanker for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The double-hulled giant, Condoleezza Rice, is part of the international tanker fleet of the San Francisco-based multinational oil firm, named several years ago in honor of Rice when she was a Chevron board member and stockholder.
Rice, the former Stanford University provost, served on Chevron's board from 1991 until Jan. 15, when she resigned after President Bush named her to the national security post.
But with California's energy crisis intensifying and human rights groups spotlighting abuses in countries where Chevron does business, critics say the tanker now poses serious diplomatic and ethical issues for Rice and the administration.
Even more sensitive, they say, is the appearance of a far too cozy relationship among multinational energy giants, Bush and his key advisers -- including Vice President Dick Cheney and Rice.
"It does underscore that there's never been an administration in power in this country that has been so close to a single industry -- in this instance, the oil-and-gas industry," said Chuck Lewis, who heads the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, which first raised the issue of the tanker's moniker last month. "Look at the president and his background, the vice president (who is a former executive at Halliburton), (Commerce Secretary) Don Evans and his oil interests . . . and now this."
Rice is a respected diplomat, but "I don't think anyone recognized the extent of her closeness to a major oil company," Lewis said. "It's not every day that someone has an oil tanker named after her."
At a White House press conference this week, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan was asked if Bush should specifically request the Condoleezza Rice tanker be given a name change -- particularly since Chevron does business on six continents and 25 countries, and has been sued for alleged human rights abuses in Nigeria.
Last year, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charging Chevron aided Nigerian police in attacks on local communities protesting Chevron production activities. A company spokesman yesterday, however, said the incident involved 200 youths armed with machetes, guns and knives who attempted to take over an offshore oil platform, holding workers for ransom and refusing to allow them access to medical treatment.
On Tuesday, the question about the tanker came up at the White House briefing in connection with the incident in Nigeria. McClellan, the administration spokesman, repeatedly said the issue of the tanker had "already been addressed" by Rice, and added, "she will uphold the highest ethical standards in office."
A Chevron spokeswoman said yesterday that the oil giant has no intention of renaming the Condoleezza Rice and noted that board member Carla Hills also had a Chevron tanker named in her honor before she was appointed former President George Bush's trade secretary -- and the vessel has kept the name.
"It's part of a long-standing practice of naming (tankers) after members of the board of directors," a company spokeswoman said, citing other big ships named George Shultz, David Packard and Kenneth T. Derr.
Rice's office did not return repeated phone calls yesterday, but she told Fox TV last year that she has no regrets regarding her Chevron ties.
"I'm very proud of my association with Chevron, and I think we should be very proud of the job American oil companies are doing in exploration abroad, in exploration at home, and in making certain we have a safe energy supply," she said.
Lewis notes that both Rice and the White House have promised that she will recuse herself from any decisions directly involving Chevron.
"The problem is Chevron operates in dozens of countries all over the world, " he said. "She (is) going to be dealing with issues that are enormous interest to Chevron across the globe -- and you can't recuse yourself from everything."
Lewis said that while some have written off the Condoleezza Rice as a small and humorous footnote to the Bush administration, the danger exists that it could turn into more.
"From a public relations standpoint, they're desperately hoping this is one tanker that doesn't run aground," said Lewis. "That could be a problem."
E-mail Carla Marinucci at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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