The only remarkable thing about the 2003 energy policy bill greasing its way through Congress has been the energy of the avaricious lobbyists for the oil, gas, coal and nuclear corporations. But then there were tens of billions of dollars in it for them in tax escapes, loan guarantees, and outright subsidies along with weaker law enforcement for polluters of your air, water and your public lands.
The legislation (H.R. 6) is 1700 pages of giveaways and contempt for the American people — their health, safety and pocketbooks. It was debated all of one hour by the House of Representatives under the rule of dictator Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX), who raises more campaign cash from lobbyists the more he takes America down.
On November 21, 2003, the Senate had a showdown vote to cut off debate after two days on this bad bill. The bad guys lost — barely.
They’re going to try again in a few days. However, in a way the concentrated corporate powers over our government nearly achieved a new high dirty- water mark toward flooding Congress completely. They nearly defeated an opposition composed of both leading liberal and conservative groups. And they ignored editorials from dozens of leading newspapers, including a ferocious one by the Wall Street Journal acidly titled “Archer-Daschle-Midland.”
The Journal meant to convey that most of the ethanol subsidies go not to farmers but to giant agribusiness companies, in cohoots with the leader of the Democrats in the Senate — Tom Daschle (D-SD). On the right in opposition were the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, National Taxpayers Union, and Citizens Against Government Waste, irritated over subsidies,giveaways and other corporate welfare boondoggles such as financing a shopping mall that included a Hooters restaurant in Louisiana.
On the liberal side were the auto and electrical workers unions (so much for Bush’s jobs argument), U.S. Public Interest Research Group, American Lung Association, ACORN, Clean Water Action Project, Consumer Federation of America, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Among the reasons for their opposition were provisions letting manufacturers of the toxic chemical MTBE avoid liability for contaminating thousands of underground sites in the United States and leaving the taxpayers with an estimated $29 billion cleanup bill.
Weighing in to oppose the bill were the National league of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the American Public Works Associations, the National Association of Counties and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.
And still the corporate Goliaths almost won!
Listen to the way the Denver Post — a conservative paper — described the legislation: “It eases environmental restrictions to promote drilling and mining on public lands, provides tax help to already profitable producers of oil, gas, coal and nuclear power, requires no progress on tightening emissions from vehicles or smokestacks, and adds insult to injury by subsidizing the purchase of monster gas-guzzlers, such as the Humvee.”
The Washington Post wrote: “The House passed an enormous energy bill. . . .that would remove tariffs from imported Chinese ceiling fans [for Home Depot], pay a half a billion dollars to chop down trees for fuel, ship bomb-grade uranium abroad. . . .” Regarding the uranium exports, top nuclear experts denounced that section because it would make it easier for terrorists to make a nuclear bomb. Where is George W. Bush to demand that this item be put on his cue cards?
One Senator from a mid-western state told me that the White House called him up and asked, “how many plants do you want in your state?”. The White House becomes a peddlar for corporate socialism.
The closeness of the vote was due to the expansion of ethanol production with a taxpayer subsidy. Usually stand-up Democratic Senators like Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) caved before the ethanol provision and a gasification plant loan guarantee. Until that happened, Dorgan was the most eloquent denouncer of the legislation “if you put ear rings on a hog, it’s still a hog,” he said, before he got his necklace).
In coming weeks, the stench of this pork-legislation will emit from the newspapers and television programs digging into its many pages. The nearly 70-year safeguard against public utility holding company speculation and the instability that kept electric companies stable would be repealed in this age of Enronitis and other drooling speculators in waiting.
Some day, stark paybacks for campaign cash by lawmakers will be considered illegal bribery. One provision in the bill gives a $100 million windfall for a large entertainment and retail complex near Syracuse. The boss of the development company is Robert Congel, who has raised more than $100,000 for Bush and recently hosted a major fundraiser outside Syracuse for Vice President Dick Cheney.
In the nineteen twenties, Will Rogers, the satiric commentator, said that “Congress is the best money can buy.” If he only knew how big the bargains have become. (For more information see web site opensecrets.org)