BEEVILLE, Texas (May 1) - High gas prices are unquestionably painful in this small South Texas town that is at least an hour’s drive from malls and specialized medical care, but some residents are doubting the wisdom of the county board’s call for a boycott of Exxon Mobil Corp.
Opponents of the boycott that starts Monday note that oil and gas taxes fund much of Bee County’s budget, and they say a boycott could end up harming mom-and-pop gas stations whose main profits are not from oil.
The boycott against the world’s largest oil company will continue until gas is down to $1.30 a gallon, said County Judge Jimmy Martinez, the county’s highest elected official. A gallon of regular unleaded cost $2.92 on average around the nation and $2.80 in the Corpus Christi region Sunday, according to AAA.
“I understand free enterprise. I understand we live in America. But, by golly, just because they have a license doesn’t mean that they can rob,” Martinez said.
A Beeville Bee-Picayune poll showed 72 percent of those surveyed plan to participate in the boycott.
The rural town of 13,000 people has fast-food restaurants and a Wal-Mart, but the long drive to other businesses and services is more than just an inconvenience for some locals.
“It’s hurting everybody; everything is going up except the pay,” said Debbie Ponce, a 35-year-old hairdresser who no longer makes the lengthy trip in her sport utility vehicle.
Martinez said Exxon, based near Dallas, was targeted because of its size and the message it sent with its recent compensation and pension package to former chief executive Lee Raymond. He received $69.7 million in compensation and a $98 million pension payout after retiring late last year.
But Exxon Mobil, which made $36 billion in profits last year, said supply and demand are mainly responsible for the high gas prices and pointed out that only about 13,000 of the country’s 170,000 gas stations have the Exxon or Mobil brand. And all but about 1,000 of those are owned by franchisees, the company said.
Commissioner Susan Stasny, the only dissenter in Monday’s 4-1 vote, noted the irony of the boycott coming from the heart of oil country.
In the past five years, she said, the county received $8 million in oil and gas tax revenues, with the county’s four school districts receiving a combined $30 million.
“We’re all concerned about the price of gasoline,” she said. “However, the oil and gas industry has been very kind to Bee County.”
Fuel is the lowest-profit item at the town’s three Exxon stations, owner Leticia Munoz said, adding that her 51 employees fear for their jobs.
“They realize if it affects us, it’ll affect them,” said Munoz, whose profits come mainly from sales of tacos, sodas and other store items.
Martinez put out a newsletter Friday urging citizens to boycott only gas, not the convenience stores.
Munoz said she had gotten a few customers who wanted to show disapproval of the resolution by buying Exxon gas.
“One said he hadn’t bought Exxon fuel in 33 years,” she said.
Still, Exxon’s reasoning in a statement that it “does not and could not control the market price of gasoline” doesn’t matter much to the many who blame the oil companies.
Said Martinez: “They’re coming into my office, they’re having to make a decision whether to drive for dialysis in Corpus Christi or whether they want to put food on the table.”