The one thing the energy issue doesn't need right now is a scandal to divert attention from the problem at hand. Unfortunately, it got a whopper of one last week.
A newly released investigation by the Interior Department brings to light a "culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" among government workers who collect royalties from oil extraction and employees from the oil companies with which they interact. The allegations read like a steamy movie script worth at least an R rating. They involve government and oil industry representatives having sex, consuming alcohol and using cocaine and marijuana together.
Employees at the Minerals Management Service office in Denver also accepted lavish gifts including trips to ski resorts and golf outings.
Critics say this is just more evidence of a cozy relationship between the Bush administration and Big Oil. Indeed, it feeds into the allegations by a congressional committee last year that the government was failing to collect millions in oil royalties. It also is bound to outrage a public already upset over record high oil industry profits.
People should be outraged, but they should direct the anger appropriately. The people involved in this activity should, if found guilty, be fired and prosecuted. The secretary of the interior should perhaps be forced to resign for allowing such things to happen under his watch, as should the director of the Minerals Management Service, who told The Associated Press the report is being taken "extremely seriously." He should have known what was happening.
But none of this changes the fact that the United States needs to enhance energy extraction while it aggressively promotes the development of alternative fuel sources. None of it changes the basic formula of increasing supply in order to reduce prices at the pump.
Congress and the president should clean house. They should impose tough oversight and ensure that every penny owed the government in oil royalties is collected, and that government and industry employees maintain a proper distance. They should demonstrate to the public that immoral behavior won't be tolerated at taxpayer expense.
But they can't let these allegations keep them from the serious problems at hand.