FTC, overriding chief, excuses BP Amoco from settlement condition; Mergers


WASHINGTON -- The Federal Trade Commission, overriding its chairman, excused BP Amoco PLC from a condition the company had accepted to win approval of its $32 billion buyout of Atlantic Richfield Co.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to lift a settlement provision that would have prohibited the London-based company from "knowingly and intentionally" exporting Alaska North Slope crude to Asia and other places to raise prices on the West Coast.

The vote Wednesday is believed to be the first defeat for Chairman Robert Pitofsky, who in his five-year tenure has relied on the support of fellow Democrats Mozelle Thompson and Sheila Anthony to forge a three-member majority. Anthony, however, joined two Republican appointees, Orson Swindle and Thomas Leary, in objecting the provision.

A legal expert said the development was unusual because the commission had surrendered a concession its staff had secured. The commission has often told staff lawyers, "You haven't gotten enough" in negotiations, said Washington antitrust lawyer Marc Schildkraut.

"I can't remember when the commission has said, 'You got too much,'" Schildkraut said.

Anthony, Leary and Swindle said in a statement that "this over-regulatory provision would be unnecessary, unenforceable, and otherwise inappropriate." They reasoned that "BP is highly unlikely to engage in exports following the merger."

The FTC vote to delete the export provision from the consent decree delayed by a day the commission's announcement that it was approving the merger.

The FTC said Thursday that it had approved the buyout by a 5-0 vote.

BP Amoco said it planned to complete the transaction Monday.

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