Energy Industry Gets Boost

AUSTIN, Texas -- Wow! Not one, but two huge, horrible, last-minute life-changing bills, and the second is even worse than the first! Record-shattering bad legislation immediately eclipsed by record-shattering bad legislation. These Republicans have talent: It is not easy to do this much damage to people's lives with a straight face and that unctuous air of piety.

I like the timing, too -- slipped that Medicare deform bill through just in time for the drug companies, the insurance companies and the HMOs to give loud hosannas around their Thanksgiving tables. Let us hear their hymns of praise, paeans, benedictions and blessings upon the Republican Party rise from their groaning and appreciative boards forever, amen.

Oh, and as for you senior citizens who believed that amusing little claim that you would all benefit from this bill -- suckers! According to Public Citizen, pharmaceutical companies have given $44 million since 1999 -- 78 percent to Republicans, 22 percent to Democrats -- and spent millions more hiring an army of lobbyists that physically outnumbers the 535 members of Congress. The Health Reform Program of Boston University estimates that of the bill's $400 billion price tag, $139 billion will go to increase drug-company profits over eight years, a 38 percent increase in what is already the world's most profitable industry.

But forget about the Medicare bill -- it won't take effect until 2006 anyway, so you won't even notice what it does till then. Regard the even more amazing energy bill. In case you haven't been keeping up (and you do have to race to keep up), there is a gasoline additive called MTBE that has polluted groundwater across the country. So naturally, the Republicans have put in a provision that would limit the liability of the manufacturers of MTBE -- that means you can't sue them for ruining the water -- and the bill would give the companies up to $2 billion in federal aid. Congratulations! That means you, the users of MTBE-polluted water across the nation, will get to pay for cleaning it up.

This is an amazing energy bill because it does not: A) reduce our dependence on foreign oil, B) provide significant new energy sources, C) create many jobs, D) improve the grid system so we won't have more blackouts, E) promote energy efficiency or conservation or F) do anything about global warming.

But, it will cost at least $20 billion in subsides to fossil fuel companies. Those poor li'l oil, gas, coal and nuclear companies like Exxon/Mobil and General Electric need our help -- this is compassionate conservatism.

We would, of course, tell you who wrote this abomination, except Dick Cheney, who headed the task force, doesn't think any of us should know where this law came from, and the Republicans who have been working on it in secret for months met in secret. Democrats were not even admitted to the committee meetings.

The environmental groups are still going through it, finding new horrors hidden away. Greenwire reports, "Section 349 would remove the discretion of the Interior Department to deny applications to drill amid onshore and offshore lands -- upon receiving an application to drill in a leased area, the department would have 10 days to determine whether additional information is required to grant a permit. Once the information is provided, the department must approve the application regardless of whether drilling would damage the environment."

I like that. Suppose the additional information required shows the company to be a notorious polluter, responsible for numerous previous spills and even blowouts. Nothing to be done.

The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that the bill rolls back environmental protections to boost oil and gas drilling on American's last remaining wild lands and open spaces. It also means eliminating consumer protections and subsidizing construction of new nuclear plants most Americans don't want, and it means exempting polluters from laws that ensure clear water and healthy air. A provision seriously weakening the Clean Air Act was inserted at the last minute behind closed doors.

And the sin of omission once again outweighs all the sins of commission, even in this stupefyingly bad bill. Our economy wastes more energy than any other country, perhaps as much as half of our total energy. This bill does nothing to encourage energy efficiency or fuel economy standards. The simplest, cheapest thing we can do about energy is save it -- but of course if we conserve energy and make our cars more efficient, that means lower profits for oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries.

No wonder the energy companies have given over $71 million in contributions to politicians, over 80 percent to Republicans, since 1999. They're getting a $20 billion return on that little investment just in direct subsidies, and there is much more in the bill in indirect subsidies. Folks, it is time to get serious about fixing this system.

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