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NM Governor Richardson Calls Special Legislative Session to Investigate Price Gouging and Energy Cost

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We speak with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and why he is calling for Congress and President Bush to investigate price gouging at the gas pumps. [includes rush transcript]

Governor Bill Richardson served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was also ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton. Last year he became the first Hispanic chairman of a National Democratic Convention. Richardson tells Democracy Now! that the federal response to hurricane Katrina was poor and “almost disastrous.” He called for an independent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that is not stacked with political appointees and said that the U.S should have accepted aid offered from Cuba and Venezuela. Richardson also explained why he has called for a special session of the New Mexico Legislature to look into price gouging at the gas pump and why he is asking the federal government to investigate. He also says that the U.S’ lack of an energy policy is one of the biggest problems facing the country.

  • Bill Richardson, Democratic Governor of New Mexico, former ambassador to the United Nations and former Secretary of Energy

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!.

BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Well, in just a few weeks, you have called for a special session of the New Mexico legislature to deal with price gouging with energy costs relief. Why a special session?

BILL RICHARDSON: Because it’s an emergency. A lot of people in New Mexico and around the country are hurting because of gas prices. We’re heading into winter where home heating oil prices are probably going to double. You have a lot of vulnerable underprivileged people that are going to be suffering. And our state is fortunate that we have some extra reserves, and we want to turn that money back in the form of rebates and increases in light heat, home heating oil, do something about at least assuring consumers that we’re looking at potential price gouging, because nobody can explain how gasoline prices go 40 cents overnight. And it’s over $3.

We’re an energy producing state. New Mexico is. So, this is why I’m doing. And there are a lot of questions about our entire energy policy, especially now in the aftermath of Katrina. Our biggest problem right now is the lack of an energy policy, the fact that we are so energy dependent, 58% on the Persian Gulf, and we’re literally doing nothing about it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Governor Richardson, I’d like to ask you, in the New York Daily News, I reported a couple of weeks ago right after the hurricane, that the Shell oil company had put up a notice on their website warning the public against price gouging and asking them to report any service stations that they felt was unfairly raising prices. Now, in the same day that Shell did that, they raised their wholesale price to gasoline stations in New York and other parts of the country, and in the ten days after the hurricane, they raised prices six times, including twice in one day.

As you probably know, Shell has the highest profits of any corporation in the history of the world right now. And I just wanted to ask you, as the former energy secretary, what can be done in times of crisis like this to assure that these oil companies don’t engage in massive rip-offs of the public?

BILL RICHARDSON: Well, first of all, Juan, you point out to a very important statistic. Right now, there’s an unexplained trend between the price of gasoline at the pump and the price of crude. In other words, wholesale prices have nearly tripled. So, the increase in prices at the pump and gasoline, what consumers are paying, is disproportionately high. This is why seven governors, led by Governor Doyle of Wisconsin are asking the President and the Congress to investigate whether in effect price gouging is going on.

I’m a former energy secretary and we used to say well, it’s market forces, replacement cost. But the increase is so high, and you can’t just say it’s because of Katrina, that we are asking these questions. What can the public do? Well, I think we need some very effective and strong price gouging laws that involve rebates, that involve penalties, because in effect, we don’t have them today, Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Richardson, what is your assessment of the response to hurricane Katrina?

BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I was a governor, and I used to deal almost daily with the bureaucracy. My national guard — I authorized to go out the Monday of the hurricane, and they weren’t approved by the Federal bureaucracy until Thursday night. We kept saying, getting reports, you’re getting so many evacuees, plan for 6,000. We ended up with about 400. So, it was very poorly handled. It was a terrible disconnect. And what is important is that we look at the future, look at Rita actually, in two days and see how we’re going to respond.

We clearly need, I believe, an independent FEMA, that is not laden with political appointees, that is independent, that is not an agency that is under the Homeland Security Department. And at the very least, we need to decide and determine what is the role of States, what is the role of mayors, what is the role of the Federal government, what is— we clearly had not planned for this, so I would say it was pretty close to a very very poor, almost disastrous response.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something — in the last few days, because of the big U.N. Summit, the meeting of global leaders in New York, we interviewed the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez and also the number two man in Cuba, Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba’s head of the national assembly, and both countries offered aid. Cuba offered over 1,500 doctors with hurricane backpacks. Even Florida senator, Mel Martinez said the U.S. Should have accepted that offer. What are your thoughts on that?

BILL RICHARDSON: Well, we should accept it, that’s because of political reasons. Both Cuba and Venezuela, as you know, Amy, have very bad relations with the United States right now. We should not look in the eye of who is ready to help, especially in a disaster like we had, especially with the proximity of the Gulf coast and Cuba and Venezuela, and Venezuela provides a lot of our energy supply. So, we should have taken it.

But at the same time, I’m sure Castro and Chavez were kind of putting their thumb in our eye a little bit, but look, this is a case where we should have been prepared. Should we accept international assistance? Of course, if it helps. But it just signals, especially for this new hurricane, Rita, which could make Katrina look puny, that we better be ready especially in the energy supply area, cause that, the Galveston area where the hurricane may strike, that’s 25% of our energy supply. That’s most of America’s refining capacity. So you could see $4 at the pump, $5 so, we got to be ready.

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