Friday, December 04, 2015

TOP STORY >> House returns $500 oil contribution

Leader executive editor

Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) has returned $500 from the ExxonMobil Political Action Committee, citing the Mayflower oil spill caused by the oil company’s Pegasus pipeline in 2013.

House said property values have plummeted and the Mayflower School District and the city have lost tax revenues because of the oil spill.

“I regret that I cannot accept your PAC’s offer of a check in the amount of $500,” House wrote to Courtney S. Walker, a lobbyist for ExxonMobil. “It certainly would have been put to good use. Although I’m unopposed, we are allowed to use such contributions for office-holder expenses (postage, travel, telephone, etc.) that the taxpayers do not fund.

“However, some of my constituents have legal disputes pending as a result of the Mayflower (spill). It is in their best interests, and the interests of the energy industry, that I return the check. I do not want any to have reason to think that my constituents do not have my first loyalty.”

Although House praised ExxonMobil’s response to the oil spill, he was critical of the economic fallout from the spill.

“There is an issue that continues to distress my constituency,” House wrote to Walker. “I have received reports that, immediately after the spill, the Mayflower zip code went on the ‘do not loan’ list of the national mortgage writers. Real estate closings and sales were canceled, buyer interest in new and existing homes went to zero, and, today, real estate values remain depressed.

“Property owners directly affected by the spill have, or will, recover compensation for damages and depreciation of their property values. But overall real estate values in the vicinity, including properties not directly affected, are depressed. This is causing a loss of real estate tax revenue to the Mayflower School District and the city of Mayflower.

“I am disappointed that the state and federal treasuries appropriated the lions’ share of proceeds of the recent settlement of the litigation,” wrote House, an attorney and a retired Army colonel.

He pleaded with Walker to provide more help to Mayflower.

“Please keep the Mayflower School District and the city of Mayflower in mind before you close your files. Their losses remain unaddressed.”

Still, the representative wrote, “our economy and prosperity depend on energy. Pipelines are still the safest and most economical way we have to move petroleum products from the source, to the refiner and to the user. I worry more about derailments and tractor-trailer wrecks on the two major railroad lines and interstate highways that bisect my district,” House wrote. “Yes, we do have concerns about the integrity of the Pegasus pipeline. I am encouraged that Exxon is both listening and acting on our concerns. I am confident that your engineers will arrive at the safest solutions regarding Pegasus.”

House said he deferred to local and state authorities after the oil spill. “My role was to monitor,” he wrote. “Exxon did everything they asked. I was particularly satisfied that Exxon was able to settle with most of the affected residents. Those disputes which could not be settled are properly pending in the courts.”

House also praised Jeff Copeskey, another ExxonMobil lobbyist. “He was accessible, kept me informed on the cleanup and when he had a problem he could not resolve.

“Emotions ran understandably high, especially among my constituents with children, health problems and homes in close proximity to the spill.”

Because of the lasting fallout from the spill, House could not accept ExxonMobil’s contribution. House ended his letter on a positive note. “Again, thank you so very much for your tender.”