Nation

Energy Secretary Formerly Headed Company Named Worst Polluter of Emissions

Last year, a devastating report by the world’s leading climate scientists warned that global warming is no longer a threat, but is a man-made disaster that has already impacted the environment.

The report confirmed that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases were to blame for severe heat waves, floods and an increase in more-intense hurricanes and tropical storms. Climatologists predict the temperature will rise by two to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and sea levels are expected to increase by seven to 23 inches by the year 2100.

Yet, hours after the report was released, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the Bush administration would continue to oppose mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases in the form of CO2 caps. Mandatory caps could financially ruin some of the energy companies responsible for polluting the air, he said.

“There is a concern within this administration, which I support, that the imposition of a carbon cap in this country would – may – lead to the transfer of jobs and industry abroad (to nations) that do not have such a carbon cap,” Bodman said. “You would then have the US economy damaged, on the one hand, and the same emissions … potentially even worse emissions”

Bodman is a Bush appointee who for a dozen years ran a Texas-based chemical company that spent years on the top five lists of the country’s worst polluters.

It’s not just a few clouds of smoke emanating from an oil refinery or a power plant that got Bodman’s old company, Boston-based Cabot Corporation, those accolades. It was the 54,000 tons of toxic emissions that his company’s refineries released into the air in the Lone Star state in 1997 alone that made Cabot the fourth-largest source of toxic emissions in Texas. Cabot is the world’s largest producer of industrial carbon black, a byproduct of the oil refinery process.

Bodman personally contributed $1,000 to Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and $20,000 to Republican committees in the 1999-2000 election. Bodman is the wealthiest member of the Bush administration. His net worth is estimated to be between $42 million and $164 million, the bulk of it in Cabot stock, deferred compensation and other benefits.

In 2000, the year Bodman left Cabot to join the Bush administration as deputy commerce secretary, Cabot accounted for 60,000 of the more than half a million tons of toxic emissions released into the Texas air, according to report by the Texas State Summary of Emissions.

A loophole created in the 1972 Texas Clean Air Act exempted or “grandfathered” industrial plants built before 1971 from new and stricter pollution controls. But in the mid-1990s, companies such as Cabot were supposed to curb the pollution coming from their refineries. Environmentalists demanded that then-Governor George W. Bush rein in the polluters and close the so-called grandfather loophole as the air in Texas became smoggier.

Instead, in 1997, Bush asked two oil company executives to outline a voluntary program that allowed the grandfathered polluters to decide on their own exactly how much to cut the pollution at their plants. The oil execs summoned a meeting of two dozen industry reps at Exxon offices in Houston and presented them with the program.

In a memo obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, one executive wrote that “clearly the insiders from oil and gas believe that the Governor’s Office will ‘persuade’ the (Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission) to accept what program is developed between the industry group and the Governor’s Office.”

The program was accepted. “And two years later, this joke of a program was enacted into law by a bill written by the general counsel for the Texas Chemical Council, who also lobbies for energy and utility companies. The bill was denounced by newspapers across the state,” according to a March 5, 2000, report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

According to people familiar with the legislation, Sam Bodman was part of the original working group that drafted legislation that Bush signed into law That legislation basically permitted Cabot and other companies to continue to emit the same level of – and in some cases more – toxic emissions as they had been emitting years earlier.

Bodman’s response to global warming ensures that companies like Cabot can continue to emit carbon black at an accelerated rate. Moreover, as long as he is energy secretary, Bodman said, he will continue to oppose federal measures to force a reduction in greenhouse gases. Doing so, Bodman said, will save jobs.

Additionally, Bodman believes the best way to combat global warming is by reviving the nuclear energy industry as well as meeting the nation’s increasing thirst for electricity.

Last year, the Energy Department undertook a massive public relations effort, expected to continue until the end of 2008, to promote nuclear energy as the new “green” energy.

In a speech at a nuclear power conference held last October at the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Bodman said nuclear energy is “safe, clean and reliable. And, for the foreseeable future, it is the only mature, emissions-free technology that can supply the power America will need to meet the projected increase in demand for electricity over the next 25 years. This is one of the reasons we have put so much emphasis on bringing about a nuclear renaissance here in the United States.”

At a time when public awareness surrounding renewable energy resources, the devastating effects of global warming and the importance of conservation is at an all-time high, the Bush administration has steered tens of billions in taxpayer dollars toward revamping the dormant nuclear power industry, touting it as the only proven technology to combat climate change.

One of the cornerstones of President Bush’s National Energy Policy, released in May 2001, was “the expansion of nuclear energy in the United States as a major component of our national energy policy.”

“We have [an] opportunity to increase our supplies of electricity. To meet projected demand over the next two decades, America must have in place between 1,300 and 1,900 new electric plants. Much of this new generation will be fueled by natural gas. However, existing and new technologies offer us the opportunity to expand nuclear generation as well. Nuclear power today accounts for 20 percent of our country’s electricity. This power source, which causes no greenhouse gas emissions, can play an expanding part in our energy future,” the energy policy says.

Bush’s energy policy was largely written by corporate executives, such as the now defunct Enron Corp., and industry lobbyists during a series of meetings convened by Cheney in early 2001. When Enron imploded in a wave of accounting scandals later that year, documents surfaced showing that the company played a role in helping Cheney draft the energy policy. Documents obtained by the Washington Post last July show that several officials from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a powerful industry lobby, met with Cheney at least twice in March 2001.

Last year, NEI spent $680,000 during the first half of 2007, according to a disclosure form posted online August 13 by the Senate’s public records office, lobbying the White House, Congress, the Department of Energy, and other federal agencies, to drum up support for nuclear energy as an alternative to the fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gasses. Cheney’s longtime friend Tom Loeffler, a former lobbyist and Republican congressman, represented the NEI. Loeffler’s former aide Nancy Dorn worked as a congressional liaison for Cheney, and later became a lobbyist for General Electric.

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