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    The New Congress to Take on Big Oil

    The blue tidal wave that hit the Republican-controlled Congress on Nov. 7 means a new agenda, new priorities and more bipartisan work on issues, at least initially, that hold common ground for the parties.

    The blue tidal wave that hit the Republican-controlled Congress on Nov. 7 means a new agenda, new priorities and more bipartisan work on issues, at least initially, that hold common ground for the parties.

    C-store operators should expect to see movement on a minimum wage increase. An increase of $5.15 to more than $7 may be phased in over two years. Though traditionally opposed by the c-store industry with an eye on staffing costs, an increase could mean more spending power for some of its most loyal customers.

    NACS (the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing) has seen many of its closest Republican allies lose their office or be removed from positions of power. Still, the association plans to work closely with new Congressional leaders on issues such as credit-card fees, petroleum marketing, tax and labor policies.

    A closer look at the new Congressional leaders shows they are not necessarily at odds with the industry on many of those issues. For instance, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who has resumed his place as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been vocal about anti-trust concerns in the credit-card industry.

    In the House of Representatives, the Energy and Commerce Committee is chaired by Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, who held the position for years before Republicans took control 12 years ago. The committee may be the most critical for the c-store industry, because it oversees petroleum, tobacco, consumer protection and health care policy. NACS characterizes Dingell as "a prag-matic individual who understands that every policy affects different sectors of the nation in different ways and he usually tries to strike an appropriate balance in his efforts."

    Still, Big Oil will have its hands full. In 2006, alleged gasoline price gouging was the subject of some 40 bills introduced in Congress. Twenty-one bills took on windfall profits by oil companies. Of course, most died on the vine.

    But the new Congress is sure to take on the major oil companies. Leaders have already said they hope to repeal tax breaks. Among the most likely to be repealed: tax breaks for refinery expansion and geological studies and a credit to oil companies choosing to drill in the United States, rather than going abroad. Expect Democrats' energy plans to include everything from requirements for Big Oil to install E-85 pumps to bigger tax credits for buyers of gas-electric hybrid cars.

    Pushing all this: the 2008 presidential race. Possible candidates already have well-formed proposals in place. Sen. Hillary Clinton's energy plan would be heavy on alternative fuels and efficiency. Last year Sen. Barak Obama (along with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar) proposed loan guarantees for bio-fuel producers and a flex-fuel requirement for all new cars by the end of 2010. Potential Republican candidate Sen. John McCain is also alternative-fuel minded; he'd like to see 100,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road 2010.

    Congress and candidates, start your (not-petroleum-using) engines.

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