Is Sabotaging The Laws
That Have Protected America's Environment For More Than 30 Years
by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
George W. Bush will go down in history as America's worst environmental
president. In a ferocious three-year attack, the Bush administration
has initiated more than 200 major rollbacks of America's environmental
laws, weakening the protection of our country's air, water, public
lands and wildlife. Cloaked in meticulously crafted language designed
to deceive the public, the administration intends to eliminate
the nation's most important environmental laws by the end of the
year. Under the guidance of Republican pollster Frank Luntz, the
Bush White House has actively hidden its anti-environmental program
behind deceptive rhetoric, telegenic spokespeople, secrecy and
the intimidation of scientists and bureaucrats. The Bush attack
was not entirely unexpected. George W. Bush had the grimmest environmental
record of any governor during his tenure in Texas. Texas became
number one in air and water pollution and in the release of toxic
chemicals. In his six years in Austin, he championed a short-term
pollution-based prosperity, which enriched his political contributors
and corporate cronies by lowering the quality of life for everyone
else. Now President Bush is set to do the same to America. After
three years, his policies are already bearing fruit, diminishing
standards of living for millions of Americans.
am angry both as a citizen and a father. Three of my sons have
asthma, and I watch them struggle to breathe on bad-air days.
And they're comparatively lucky: One in four African-American
children in New York shares this affliction; their suffering is
often unrelieved because they lack the insurance and high-quality
health care that keep my sons alive. My kids are among the millions
of Americans who cannot enjoy the seminal American experience
of fishing locally with their dad and eating their catch. Most
freshwater fish in New York and all in Connecticut are now under
consumption advisories. A main source of mercury pollution in
America, as well as asthma-provoking ozone and particulates, is
the coal-burning power plants that President Bush recently excused
from complying with the Clean Air Act.
the deadly addiction to fossil fuels that White House policies
encourage has squandered our treasury, entangled us in foreign
wars, diminished our international prestige, made us a target
for terrorist attacks and increased our reliance on petty Middle
Eastern dictators who despise democracy and are hated by their
the Republican right managed to install George W. Bush as president
in 2000, movement leaders once again set about doing what they
had attempted to do since the Reagan years: eviscerate the infrastructure
of laws and regulations that protect the environment. For twenty-five
years it has been like the zombie that keeps coming back from
attacks began on Inauguration Day, when President Bush's chief
of staff and former General Motors lobbyist Andrew Card quietly
initiated a moratorium on all recently adopted regulations. Since
then, the White House has enlisted every federal agency that oversees
environmental programs in a coordinated effort to relax rules
aimed at the oil, coal, logging, mining and chemical industries
as well as automakers, real estate developers, corporate agribusiness
and other industries.
Environmental Protection Agency has halted work on sixty-two environmental
standards, the Food and Drug Administration has stopped work on
fifty-seven standards. The EPA completed just two major rules
-- both under court order and both watered down at industry request
-- compared to twenty-three completed by the Clinton administration
and fourteen by the Bush Sr. administration in their first two
onslaught is being coordinated through the White House Office
of Management and Budget -- or, more precisely, OMB's Office of
Information and Regulatory Affairs, under the direction of John
Graham, the engine-room mechanic of the Bush stealth strategy.
Graham's specialty is promoting changes in scientific and economic
assumptions that underlie government regulations -- such as recalculating
cost-benefit analyses to favor polluters. Before coming to the
White House, Graham was the founding director of the Harvard Center
for Risk Analysis, where he received funding from America's champion
corporate polluters: Dow Chemical, DuPont, Monsanto, Alcoa, Exxon,
General Electric and General Motors.
the White House's guidance, the very agencies entrusted to protect
Americans from polluters are laboring to destroy environmental
laws. Or they've simply stopped enforcing them. Penalties imposed
for environmental violations have plummeted under Bush. The EPA
has proposed eliminating 270 enforcement staffers, which would
drop staff levels to the lowest level ever. Inspections of polluting
businesses have dipped fifteen percent. Criminal cases referred
for federal prosecution have dropped forty percent. The EPA measures
its success by the amount of pollution reduced or prevented as
a result of its own actions. Last year, the EPA's two most senior
career enforcement officials resigned after decades of service.
They cited the administration's refusal to carry out environmental
White House has masked its attacks with euphemisms that would
have embarrassed George Orwell. George W. Bush's "Healthy
Forests" initiative promotes destructive logging of old-growth
forests. His "Clear Skies" program, which repealed key
provisions of the Clean Air Act, allows more emissions. The administration
uses misleading code words such as streamlining or reforming instead
of weakening, and thinning instead of logging.
a March 2003 memo to Republican leadership, pollster Frank Luntz
frankly outlined the White House strategy on energy and the environment:
"The environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans
in general and President Bush in particular are most vulnerable,"
he wrote, cautioning that the public views Republicans as being
"in the pockets of corporate fat cats who rub their hands
together and chuckle maniacally as they plot to pollute America
for fun and profit." Luntz warned, "Not only do we risk
losing the swing vote, but our suburban female base could abandon
us as well." He recommended that Republicans don the sheep's
clothing of environmental rhetoric while dismantling environmental
prosecute polluters on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense
Council, Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance. As George W. Bush
began his presidency, I was involved in litigation against the
factory-pork industry, which is a large source of air and water
pollution in America. Corporate pork factories cannot produce
more efficiently than traditional family farmers without violating
several federal environmental statutes. Industrial farms illegally
dump millions of tons of untreated fecal and toxic waste onto
land and into the air and water. Factory farms have contaminated
hundreds of miles of waterways, put tens of thousands of family
farmers and fishermen out of work, killed billions of fish, sickened
consumers and subjected millions of farm animals to unspeakable
behalf of several farm groups and fishermen, we sued Smithfield
Foods and won a decision that suggested that almost all of American
factory farms were violating the Clean Water Act. The Clinton
EPA had also brought its own parallel suits addressing chronic
air and water violations by hog factories. But almost immediately
after taking office, the Bush administration ordered the EPA to
halt its Clean Air Act investigations of animal factories and
weaken the water rules to allow them to continue polluting indefinitely.
of my other national cases were similarly derailed. Eleven years
ago, I sued the EPA to stop massive fish kills at power plants.
Using antiquated technology, power plants often suck up the entire
fresh water volume of large rivers, killing obscene numbers of
fish. Just one facility, the Salem nuclear plant in New Jersey,
kills more than 3 billion Delaware River fish each year, according
to Martin Marietta, the plant's own consultant. These fish kills
are illegal, and in 2001 we finally won our case. A federal judge
ordered the EPA to issue regulations restricting power-plant fish
kills. But soon after President Bush's inauguration, the administration
replaced the proposed new rule with clever regulations designed
to allow the slaughter to continue unabated. The new administration
also trumped court decisions that would have enforced greater
degrees of wetlands protection and forbidden coal moguls from
blasting off whole mountaintops to get at the coal beneath.
fishermen I represent are traditionally Republican. But, without
exception, they see this administration as the largest threat
not just to their livelihoods but to their values and their idea
of what it means to be American. "Why," they'll ask,
"is the president allowing coal, oil, power and automotive
interests to fix the game?"
to the Dark Ages
w. Bush seems to be trying to take us all the way back to the
Dark Ages by undermining the very principles of our environmental
rights, which civilized nations have always recognized. Ancient
Rome's Code of Justinian guaranteed the use to all citizens of
the "public trust" or commons -- those shared resources
that cannot be reduced to private property -- the air, flowing
water, public lands, wandering animals, fisheries, wetlands and
Roman law broke down in Europe during the Dark Ages, feudal kings
began to privatize the commons. In the early thirteenth century,
when King John also attempted to sell off England's fisheries
and erect navigational tolls on the Thames, his subjects rose
up and confronted him at Runnymede, forcing him to sign the Magna
Carta, which includes provisions guaranteeing the rights of free
access to fisheries and waters.
laws in England, passed in the fourteenth century, made it a capital
offense to burn coal in London, and violators were executed for
the crime. These "public trust" rights to unspoiled
air, water and wildlife descended to the people of the United
States following the American Revolution. Until 1870, a factory
releasing even small amounts of smoke onto public or private property
was operating illegally.
during the Gilded Age, when the corporate robber barons captured
the political and judicial systems, those rights were stolen from
the American people. As the Industrial Revolution morphed into
the postwar industrial boom, Americans found themselves paying
a high price for the resulting pollution. The wake-up call came
in the late Sixties, when Lake Erie was declared dead and Cleveland's
Cuyahoga River exploded in colossal infernos.
1970, more than 20 million Americans took to the streets protesting
the state of the environment on the first Earth Day. Whether they
knew it or not, they were demanding a return of ancient rights.
the next few years, Congress passed twenty-eight major environmental
statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and
the Endangered Species Act, and it created the Environmental Protection
Agency to apply and enforce these new laws. Polluters would be
held accountable; those planning to use the commons would have
to compile environmental-impact statements and hold public hearings;
citizens were given the power to prosecute environmental crimes.
Right-to-know and toxic-inventory laws made government and industry
more transparent on the local level and our nation more democratic.
Even the most vulnerable Americans could now participate in the
dialogue that determines the destinies of their communities.
Day caught polluters off guard. But in the next thirty years,
they mounted an increasingly sophisticated and aggressive counterattack
to undermine these laws. The Bush administration is a culmination
of their three-decade campaign.
1980, candidate Ronald Reagan declared, "I am a Sagebrush
Rebel," marking a major turning point of the modern anti-environmental
movement. In the early 1980s, the Western extractive industries,
led by one of Colorado's worst polluters, brewer Joseph Coors,
organized the Sagebrush Rebellion, a coalition of industry money
and right-wing ideologues that helped elect Reagan president.
big polluters who started the Sagebrush Rebellion were successful
because they managed to broaden their constituency with anti-regulatory,
anti-labor and anti-environmental rhetoric that had great appeal
both among Christian fundamentalist leaders such as Jerry Falwell
and Pat Robertson, and in certain Western communities where hostility
to government is deeply rooted. Big polluters found that they
could organize this discontent into a potent political force that
possessed the two ingredients of power in American democracy:
money and intensity. Meanwhile, innovations in direct-mail and
computer technologies gave this alliance of dark populists and
polluters a deafening voice in American government.
founded the Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1976 to bring
lawsuits designed to enrich giant corporations, limit civil rights
and attack unions, homosexuals and minorities. He also founded
the right-wing Heritage Foundation, to provide a philosophical
underpinning for the anti-environmental movement. While the foundation
and its imitators -- the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the
American Enterprise Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Federalist
Society, the Marshall Institute and others -- claim to advocate
free markets and property rights, their agenda is more pro-pollution
than anything else.
its conception, the Heritage Foundation and its neoconservative
cronies urged followers to "strangle the environmental movement,"
which Heritage named "the greatest single threat to the American
economy." Ronald Reagan's victory gave Heritage Foundation
and the Mountain States Legal Foundation immeasurable clout. Heritage
became known as Reagan's "shadow government," and its
2,000-page manifesto, "Mandate for Change," became a
blueprint for his administration. Coors handpicked his Colorado
associates: Anne Gorsuch became the EPA administrator; her husband,
Robert Burford, a cattle baron who had vowed to destroy the Bureau
of Land Management, was selected to head that very agency. Most
notorious, Coors chose James Watt, president of the Mountain States
Legal Foundation, as the secretary of the interior. Watt was a
proponent of "dominion theology," an authoritarian Christian
heresy that advocates man's duty to "subdue" nature.
His deep faith in laissez-faire capitalism and apocalyptic Christianity
led Secretary Watt to set about dismantling his department and
distributing its assets rather than managing them for future generations.
During a Senate hearing, he cited the approaching Apocalypse to
explain why he was giving away America's sacred places at fire-sale
prices: "I do not know how many future generations we can
count on before the Lord returns."
Anne Gorsuch enthusiastically gutted EPA's budget by sixty percent,
crippling its ability to write regulations or enforce the law.
She appointed lobbyists fresh from their hitches with the paper,
asbestos, chemical and oil companies to run each of the principal
agency departments. Her chief counsel was an Exxon lawyer; her
head of enforcement was from General Motors.
attacks on the environment precipitated a public revolt. By 1983,
more than a million Americans and all 125 American-Indian tribes
had signed a petition demanding Watt's removal. After being forced
out of office, Watt was indicted on twenty-five felony counts
of influence-pedaling. Gorsuch and twenty-three of her cronies
were forced to resign following a congressional investigation
of sweetheart deals with polluters, including Coors. Her first
deputy, Rita Lavelle, was jailed for perjury.
indictments and resignations put a temporary damper on the Sagebrush
Rebels, but they quickly regrouped as the "Wise Use"
movement. Wise Use founder, the timber-industry flack Ron Arnold,
said, "Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental
movement. We want to be able to exploit the environment for private
1994, Wise Use helped propel Newt Gingrich to the speaker's chair
of the U.S. House of Representatives and turn his anti-environmental
manifesto, "The Contract With America," into law. Gingrich's
chief of environmental policy was Rep. Tom DeLay, the one-time
Houston exterminator who was determined to rid the world of pesky
pesticide regulations and to promote a biblical worldview. He
targeted the Endangered Species Act as the second-greatest threat
to Texas after illegal aliens. He also wanted to legalize the
deadly pesticide DDT, and he routinely referred to the EPA as
"the Gestapo of government." In January 1995, DeLay
invited a group of 350 lobbyists representing some of America's
biggest polluters to collaborate in drafting legislation to dismantle
federal health, safety and environmental laws.
and DeLay had learned from the James Watt debacle that they had
to conceal their radical agenda. Carefully eschewing public debates
on their initiatives, they mounted a stealth attack on America's
environmental laws. Rather than pursue a frontal assault against
popular statutes such as the Endangered Species, Clean Water and
Clean Air acts, they tried to undermine these laws by attaching
silent riders to must-pass budget bills.
the public got wise. Moderate Republicans teamed up with the Clinton
administration to block the worst of it. My group, the NRDC, as
well as the Sierra Club and the U.S. Public Interest Research
Group, generated more than 1 million letters to Congress. When
President Clinton shut down the government in December 1995 rather
than pass a budget bill spangled with anti-environmental riders,
the tide turned against Gingrich and DeLay. By the end of that
month, even conservatives disavowed the attack. "We lost
the battle on the environment," DeLay conceded.
with the presidency and both houses of Congress under the anti-environmentalists'
control, they are set to eviscerate the despised laws. White House
strategy is to promote its unpopular policies by lying about its
agenda, cheating on the science and stealing the language and
rhetoric of the environmental movement.
as Republican pollster Luntz acknowledged that the scientific
evidence is against the Republicans on issues like global warming,
he advised them to find scientists willing to hoodwink the public.
"You need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty
a primary issue," he told Republicans, "by becoming
even more active in recruiting experts sympathetic to your view."
the meantime, he urged them to change their rhetoric. " 'Climate
change,' " he said, "is less threatening than 'global
warming.' While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached
to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional
EPA's inspector general received broad attention for his August
21st, 2003, finding that the White House pressured the agency
to conceal the public-health risks from poisoned air following
the September 11th World Trade Center attacks. But this 2001 deception
is only one example of the administration's pattern of strategic
distortion. Earlier this year, it suppressed an EPA report warning
that millions of Americans, especially children, are being poisoned
by mercury from industrial sources.
behavior is consistent throughout the Bush government. Consider
the story of James Zahn, a scientist at the Department of Agriculture
who resigned after the Bush administration suppressed his taxpayer-funded
study proving that billions of antibiotic-resistant bacteria can
be carried daily across property lines from meat factories into
neighboring homes and farms. In March 2002, Zahn accepted my invitation
to present his findings to a convention of family-farm advocates
in Iowa. Several weeks before the April conference, pork-industry
lobbyists learned of his appearance and persuaded the Department
of Agriculture to forbid him from appearing. Zahn told me he had
been ordered to cancel a dozen appearances at county health departments
and similar venues.
May, the White House blocked the EPA staff from publicly discussing
contamination by the chemical perchlorate -- the main ingredient
in solid rocket fuel. The administration froze federal regulations
on perchlorate, even as new research reveals alarmingly high levels
of the chemical in the nation's drinking water and food supply,
including many grocery-store lettuces. Perchlorate pollution has
been linked to neurological problems, cancer and other life-threatening
illnesses in some twenty states. The Pentagon and several defense
contractors face billions of dollars in potential cleanup liability.
administration's leading expert in manipulating scientific data
is Interior Secretary Gale Norton. During her nomination hearings,
Norton promised not to ideologically slant agency science. But
as her friend Thomas Sansonetti, a coal- industry lobbyist who
is now assistant attorney general, predicted, "There won't
be any biologists or botanists to come in and pull the wool over
autumn 2001, Secretary Norton provided the Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources with her agency's scientific assessment
that Arctic oil drilling would not harm hundreds of thousands
of caribou. Not long afterward, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists
contacted the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility,
which defends scientists and other professionals working in state
and federal environmental agencies. "The scientists provided
us the science that they had submitted to Norton and the altered
version that she had given to Congress a week later," said
the group's executive director, Jeff Ruch. There were seventeen
major substantive changes, all of them minimizing the reported
impacts. When Norton was asked about the alterations in October
2001, she dismissed them as typographical errors.
she and White House political adviser Karl Rove forced National
Marine Fisheries scientists to alter findings on the amount of
water required for the survival of salmon in Oregon's Klamath
River, to ensure that large corporate farms got a bigger share
of the river water. As a result, more than 33,000 chinook and
coho salmon died -- the largest fish kill in the history of America.
Mike Kelly, the biologist who drafted the original opinion (and
who has since been awarded federal whistle-blower status), told
me that the coho salmon is probably headed for extinction. "Morale
is low among scientists here," Kelly says. "We are under
pressure to get the right results. This administration is putting
the species at risk for political gain -- and not just in the
has also ordered the rewriting of an exhaustive twelve-year study
by federal biologists detailing the effects that Arctic drilling
would have on populations of musk oxen and snow geese. She reissued
the biologists' report two weeks later as a two-page paper showing
no negative impact to wildlife. She also ordered suppression of
two studies by the Fish and Wildlife Service concluding that the
drilling would threaten polar-bear populations and violate the
international treaty protecting bears. She then instructed the
Fish and Wildlife Service to redo the report to "reflect
the Interior Department's position." She suppressed findings
that mountaintop mining would cause "tremendous destruction
of aquatic and terrestrial habitat" and a Park Service report
that found that snowmobiles were hurting Yellowstone's air quality,
wildlife and the health of its visitors and employees.
Fish and Wildlife Service is the first ever not to voluntarily
list a single species as endangered or threatened. Her officials
have blackballed scientists and savaged studies to avoid listing
the trumpeter swan, revoke the listing of the grizzly bear and
shrink the remnant habitat for the Florida panther. She disbanded
the service's oldest scientific advisory committee in order to
halt protection of desert fish in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas
that are headed for extinction. Interior career staffers and scientists
say they are monitored by Norton's industry appointees to ensure
that future studies do not conflict with industry profit-making.
the Books on Global Warming
is no scientific debate in which the White House has cooked the
books more than that of global warming. In the past two years
the Bush administration has altered, suppressed or attempted to
discredit close to a dozen major reports on the subject. These
include a ten-year peer-reviewed study by the International Panel
on Climate Change, commissioned by the president's father in 1993
in his own efforts to dodge what was already a virtual scientific
consensus blaming industrial emissions for global warming.
disavowing the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush administration commissioned
the federal government's National Academy of Sciences to find
holes in the IPCC analysis. But this ploy backfired. The NAS not
only confirmed the existence of global warming and its connection
to industrial greenhouse gases, it also predicted that the effects
of climate change would be worse than previously believed, estimating
that global temperatures will rise between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees
May 2002 report by scientists from the EPA, NASA and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, approved by Bush appointees
at the Council on Environmental Quality and submitted to the United
Nations by the U.S., predicted similarly catastrophic impacts.
When confronted with the findings, Bush dismissed it with his
smirking condemnation: "I've read the report put out by the
bureaucracy. . . ."
the White House acknowledged that, in fact, he hadn't. Having
failed to discredit the report with this untruth, George W. did
what his father had done: He promised to study the problem some
more. Last fall, the White House announced the creation of the
Climate Research Initiative to study global warming. The earliest
results are due next fall. But the White House's draft plan for
CRI was derided by the NAS in February as a rehash of old studies
and established science lacking "most elements of a strategic
September 2002, administration censors released the annual EPA
report on air pollution without the agency's usual update on global
warming, that section having been deleted by Bush appointees at
the White House. On June 19th, 2003, a "State of the Environment"
report commissioned by the EPA in 2001 was released after language
about global warming was excised by flat-earthers in the White
House. The redacted studies had included a 2001 report by the
National Research Council, commissioned by the White House. In
their place was a piece of propaganda financed by the American
Petroleum Institute challenging these conclusions.
past July, EPA scientists leaked a study, which the agency had
ordered suppressed in May, showing that a Senate plan -- co-sponsored
by Republican Sen. John McCain -- to reduce the pollution that
causes global warming could achieve its goal at very small cost.
Bush reacted by launching a $100 million ten-year effort to prove
that global temperature changes have, in fact, occurred naturally,
another delay tactic for the fossil-fuel barons at taxpayer expense.
geo-scientist Michael Oppenheimer told me, "This administration
likes to emphasize what we don't know while ignoring or minimizing
what we do know, which is a prescription for paralysis on policy.
It's hard to imagine what kind of scientific evidence would suffice
to convince the White House to take firm action on global warming."
the board, the administration yields to Big Energy. At the request
of ExxonMobil, and with the help of a lobbying group working for
coal-burning utility Southern Co., the Bush administration orchestrated
the removal of U.S. scientist Robert Watson, the world-renowned
former NASA atmospheric chemist who headed the United Nations'
IPCC. He was replaced by a little-known scientist from New Delhi,
India, who would be generally unavailable for congressional hearings.
Bush administration now plans to contract out thousands of environmental-science
jobs to compliant industry consultants already in the habit of
massaging data to support corporate profit-taking, effectively
making federal science an arm of Karl Rove's political machine.
The very ideologues who derided Bill Clinton as a liar have institutionalized
dishonesty and made it the reigning culture of America's federal
agencies. "At its worst," Oppenheimer says, "this
approach represents a serious erosion in the way a democracy deals
the Cheney Task Force
is no better example of the corporate cronyism now hijacking American
democracy than the White House's cozy relationship with the energy
industry. It's hard to find anyone on Bush's staff who does not
have extensive corporate connections, but fossil-fuel executives
rule the roost. The energy industry contributed more than $48.3
million to Republicans in the 2000 election cycle, with $3 million
to Bush. Now the investment has matured. Both Bush and Cheney
came out of the oil patch. Thirty-one of the Bush transition team's
forty-eight members had energy-industry ties. Bush's cabinet and
White House staff is an energy-industry dream team -- four cabinet
secretaries, the six most powerful White House officials and more
than twenty high-level appointees are alumni of the industry and
its allies (see "Bush's Energy-Industry All-Stars,"
on Page 183).
potential for corruption is staggering. Take the case of J. Steven
Griles, deputy secretary of the Interior Department. During the
first Reagan administration, Griles worked directly under James
Watt at Interior, where he helped the coal industry evade prohibitions
against mountaintop-removal strip mining. In 1989, Griles left
government to work as a mining executive and then as a lobbyist
with National Environmental Strategies, a Washington, D.C., firm
that represented the National Mining Association and Dominion
Resources, one of the nation's largest power producers. When Griles
got his new job at Interior, the National Mining Association hailed
him as "an ally of the industry."
bad enough that a former mining lobbyist was put in charge of
regulating mining on public land. But it turns out that Griles
is still on the industry's payroll. In 2001, he sold his client
base to his partner Marc Himmelstein for four annual payments
of $284,000, making Griles, in effect, a continuing partner in
Griles was an oil and mining lobbyist, the Senate made him agree
in writing that he would avoid contact with his former clients
as a condition of his confirmation. Griles has nevertheless repeatedly
met with former coal clients to discuss new rules allowing mountaintop
mining in Appalachia and destructive coal-bed methane drilling
in Wyoming. He also met with his former oil clients about offshore
leases. These meetings prompted Sen. Joseph Lieberman to ask the
Interior Department to investigate Griles. With Republicans in
control of congressional committees, no subpoenas have interrupted
the Griles scandals.
its operatives in place, the Bush energy plan became an orgy of
industry plunder. Days after his inauguration, Bush launched the
National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Cheney. For
three months, the task force held closed-door meetings with energy-industry
representatives - then refused to disclose the names of the participants.
the first time in history, the nonpartisan General Accounting
Office sued the executive branch, for access to these records.
NRDC put in a Freedom of Information Act request, and when Cheney
did not respond, we also sued. On February 21st, 2002, U.S. District
Judge Gladys Kessler ordered Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham
and other agency officials to turn over the records relating to
their participation in the work of the energy task force. Under
this court order, NRDC has obtained some 20,000 documents. Although
none of the logs on the vice president's meetings have been released
yet and the pages were heavily redacted to prevent disclosure
of useful information, the documents still allow glimpses of the
task force comprised Cabinet secretaries and other high-level
administration officials with energy-industry pedigrees. The undisputed
leader was Cheney, who hails from Wyoming, the nation's largest
coal producer, and who, for six previous years, was CEO of Halliburton,
the oil-service company. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was chairman
of the Aluminum Company of America for thirteen years. Aluminum-industry
profits are directly related to energy prices. O'Neill promised
to immediately sell his extensive stock holdings in his former
company (worth more than $100 million) to avoid conflicts of interest,
but he delayed the sale until after the energy plan was released.
By then, thanks partly to the administration's energy policies,
Alcoa's stock had risen thirty percent. Energy Secretary Abraham,
a former one-term senator from Michigan, received $700,000 from
the auto industry in his losing 2000 campaign, more than any other
Senate candidate. At Energy, Abraham led the administration effort
to scuttle fuel-economy standards, allow SUVs to escape fuel-efficiency
minimums and create obscene tax incentives for Americans to buy
the largest gas guzzlers.
Allbaugh, director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,
sat next to Abraham on the task force. Allbaugh's wife, Diane,
is an energy-industry lobbyist and represents three firms -- Reliant
Energy, Entergy and TXU, each of which paid her $20,000 in the
three months of the task force's deliberation. Joe Allbaugh participated
in task-force meetings on issues directly affecting those companies,
including debates about environmental rules for power plants and
-- his wife's specialty --electricity deregulation.
Secretary Don Evans, an old friend of the president from their
early days in the oil business, was CEO of Tom Brown Inc., a Denver
oil-and-gas company, and a trustee of another drilling firm. Interior
Secretary Gale Norton, a mining-industry lawyer, accepted nearly
$800,000 from the energy industry during her 1996 run in Colorado
for the U.S. Senate.
the winter and spring of 2001, executives and lobbyists from the
oil, coal, electric-utility and nuclear industries tramped in
and out of the Cabinet room and Cheney's office. Many of the lobbyists
had just left posts inside Bush's presidential campaign to work
for companies that had donated lavishly to that effort. Companies
that made large contributions were given special access. Executives
from Enron Corp., which contributed $2.5 million to the GOP from
1999 to 2002, had contact with the task force at least ten times,
including six face-to-face meetings between top officials and
one meeting with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, Cheney dismissed California
Gov. Gray Davis' request to cap the state's energy prices. That
denial would enrich Enron and nearly bankrupt California. It has
since emerged that the state's energy crisis was largely engineered
by Enron. According to the New York Times, the task-force staff
circulated a memo that suggested "utilizing" the crisis
to justify expanded oil and gas drilling. President Bush and others
would cite the California crisis to call for drilling in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge.
companies that had not ponied up remained under pressure to give
to Republicans. When Westar Energy's chief executive was indicted
for fraud, investigators found an e-mail written by Westar executives
describing solicitations by Republican politicians for a political
action committee controlled by Tom DeLay as the price for a "seat
at the table" with the task force.
members began each meeting with industry lobbyists by announcing
that the session was off the record and that participants were
to share no documents. A National Mining Association official
told reporters that the industry managed to control the energy
plan by keeping the process secret. "We've probably had as
much input as anybody else in town," he said. "I have
to take my hat off to them -- they've been able to keep a lid
it was suggested that access to the administration was for sale,
Cheney hardly apologized. "Just because somebody makes a
campaign contribution doesn't mean that they should be denied
the opportunity to express their view to government officials,"
he said. Although they met with hundreds of industry officials,
Cheney and Abraham refused to meet with any environmental groups.
Cheney made one exception to the secrecy policy: On May 15th,
2001, the day before the task force sent its plan to the president,
CEOs from wind-, solar- and geothermal-energy companies were granted
a short meeting with Cheney. Afterward, they were led into the
Rose Garden for a press conference and a photo op.
peddling influence to energy tycoons, the White House quietly
dropped criminal and civil charges against Koch Industries, America's
largest privately held oil company. Koch faced a ninety-seven-count
federal felony indictment and $357 million in fines for knowingly
releasing ninety metric tons of carcinogenic benzene and concealing
the releases from federal regulators. Koch executives contributed
$800,000 to Bush's presidential campaign and to other top Republicans.
March, the Federal Trade Commission dropped a Clinton-era investigation
of price gouging by the oil and gas industries, even as Duke Energy,
a principal target of the probe, admitted to selling electricity
in California for more than double the highest previously reported
price. The Bush administration said that the industry deserved
a "gentler approach." Administration officials also
winked at a scam involving a half-dozen oil companies cheating
the government out of $100 million per year in royalty payments.
Co. was among the most adept advocates for its own self-interest.
The company, which contributed $1.6 million to Republicans from
1999 to 2002, met with Cheney's task force seven times. Faced
with a series of EPA prosecutions at power plants violating air-quality
standards, the company retained Haley Barbour, former Republican
National Committee chairman and now governor-elect of Mississippi,
to lobby the administration to ignore Southern's violations.
White House then forced the Justice Department to drop the prosecution.
Justice lawyers were "astounded" that the administration
would interfere in a law-enforcement matter that was "supposed
to be out of bounds from politics." The EPA's chief enforcement
officer, Eric Schaeffer, resigned. "With the Bush administration,
whether or not environmental laws are enforced depends on who
you know," Schaeffer told me. "If you've got a good
lobbyist, you can just buy your way out of trouble."
with Barbour, Southern retained current Republican National Committee
chairman and former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot. Barbour and Racicot
repeatedly conferred with Abraham and Cheney, urging them to ease
limits on carbon-dioxide pollution from power plants and to gut
the Clean Air Act. On May 17th, 2001, the White House released
its energy plan. Among the recommendations were exempting old
power plants from Clean Air Act compliance and adopting Barbour's
arguments about carbon-dioxide restrictions. Barbour repaid the
favor that week by raising $250,000 at a May 21st GOP gala honoring
Bush. Southern donated $150,000 to the effort.
task force had at least nineteen contacts with officials from
the nuclear-energy industry --whose trade association, the Nuclear
Energy Institute, donated $100,000 to the Bush inauguration gala
and $437,000 to Republicans from 1999 to 2002. The report recommended
loosening environmental controls on the industry, reducing public
participation in the siting of nuclear plants and adding billions
of dollars in subsidies for the nuclear industry.
wasn't embarrassed to reward his old cronies at Halliburton, either.
The final draft of the task-force report praises a gas-recovery
technique controlled by Halliburton -- even though an earlier
draft had criticized the technology. The technique, which has
been linked to the contamination of aquifers, is currently being
investigated by the EPA. Somehow, that got edited out of the report.
Coal and the Destruction of Appalachia
companies enjoyed perhaps the biggest payoff. At the West Virginia
Coal Association's annual conference in May 2002, president William
D. Raney assured 150 industry moguls, "You did everything
you could to elect a Republican president." Now, he said,
"you are already seeing in his actions the payback."
Energy, the world's largest coal company and a major contributor
to the Bush campaign, was one of the first to cash in. Immediately
after his inauguration, Bush appointed two executives from Peabody
and one from its Black Beauty subsidiary to his energy advisory
the task force released its final report, it recommended accelerating
coal production and spending $2 billion in federal subsidies for
research to make coal-fired electricity cleaner. Five days later,
Peabody issued a public-stock offering, raising $60 million more
than analysts had predicted. Company vice president Fred Palmer
credited the Bush administration. "I am sure it affected
the valuation of the stock," he told the Los Angeles Times.
also wanted to build the largest coal-fired power plant in thirty
years upwind of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, a designated
UNESCO World Heritage site and International Biosphere Reserve.
With arm-twisting from Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles
and another $450,000 in GOP contributions, Peabody got what it
wanted. A study on the air impacts was suppressed, and park scientists
who feared that several endangered species might go extinct due
to mercury and acid-rain deposits were silenced.
the Senate's request, Griles had signed a "statement of disqualification"
on August 1st, 2001, committing himself to avoiding issues affecting
his former clients. Three days later, he nevertheless appeared
before the West Virginia Coal Association and promised executives
that "we will fix the federal rules very soon on water and
soil placement." That was fancy language for pushing whole
mountaintops into valleys, a practice worth billions to the industry.
As a Reagan official, Griles helped devise the practice, which
a federal court declared illegal in 2002, after 1,200 miles of
streambeds had been filled and 380,000 acres of Appalachian forestlands
had been rendered barren moonscapes.
Griles was promising his former coal clients he would fix these
rules. In May 2002, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers adopted
the language recommended by his former client, the National Mining
Association. Had Griles not intervened, the practice of mountaintop-removal
mining would have been severely restricted. Griles also pushed
EPA deputy administrator Linda Fisher to overrule career personnel
in the agency's Denver office who had given a devastating assessment
to a proposal to produce coal-bed methane gas in the Powder River
basin in Wyoming. Although Griles had recused himself from any
discussion of this subject because it would directly enrich his
former clients, he worked aggressively behind the scenes on behalf
of a proposal to build 51,000 wells. The project will require
26,000 miles of new roads and 48,000 miles of pipeline, and will
foul pristine landscapes with trillions of gallons of toxic wastewater.
energy-task-force plan is a $20 billion subsidy to the oil, coal
and nuclear industries, which are already swimming in record revenues.
In May 2003, as the House passed the plan and as the rest of the
nation stagnated in a recession abetted by high oil prices, Exxon
announced that its profits had tripled from the previous quarter's
record earnings. The energy plan recommends opening protected
lands and waters to oil and gas drilling and building up to 1,900
electric-power plants. National treasures such as the California
and Florida coasts, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the
areas around Yellowstone Park will be opened for plunder for the
trivial amounts of fossil fuels that they contain. While increasing
reliance on oil, coal and nuclear power, the plan cuts the budget
for research into energy efficiency and alternative power sources
by nearly a third. "Conservation may be a sign of personal
virtue," Cheney explained, but it should not be the basis
of "comprehensive energy policy."
if to prove that point, Republicans simultaneously eliminated
the tax credit that had encouraged Americans to buy gas-saving
hybrid cars, and weakened efficiency standards for everything
from air conditioners to automobiles. They also created an obscene
$100,000 tax break for Hummers and the thirty-eight biggest gas
guzzlers. Then, adding insult to injury, the Energy Department
robbed $135,615 from the anemic solar, renewables and energy-conservation
budget to produce 10,000 copies of the White House's energy plan.
lobby for the plan, more than 400 industry groups enlisted in
the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, a coalition created
by oil, mining and nuclear interests and guided by the White House.
It cost $5,000 to join, "a very low price," according
to Republican lobbyist Wayne Valis. The prerequisite for joining,
he wrote in a memo, was that members "must agree to support
the Bush energy proposal in its entirety and not lobby for changes."
Within two months, members had contributed more than $1 million.
The price for disloyalty was expulsion from the coalition and
possible reprisal by the administration. "I have been advised,"
wrote Valis, "that this White House 'will have a long memory.'
plan represents a massive transfer of wealth from the public to
the energy sector. Indeed, Bush views his massive tax cuts as
a way of helping Americans pay for inflated energy bills. "If
I had my way," he declared, "I'd have [the tax cuts]
in place tomorrow so that people would have money in their pockets
to deal with high energy prices."
congress will have its final vote on the plan in November, the
White House has already devised ways to implement most of its
worst provisions without congressional interference. In October
2001, the administration removed the Interior Department's power
to veto mining permits, even if the mining would cause "substantial
and irreparable harm" to the environment. That December,
Bush and congressional Republicans passed an "economic-stimulus
package" that proposed $2.4 billion worth of tax breaks,
credits and loopholes for Chevron, Texaco, Enron and General Electric.
The following February, the White House announced it would abandon
regulations for three major pollutants -- mercury, sulfur dioxide
and nitrogen oxide.
in the Bush administration, Vice President Cheney had solicited
an industry wish list from the United States Energy Association,
the lobbying arm for trade associations including the American
Petroleum Institute, the National Mining Association, the Nuclear
Energy Institute and the Edison Institute. The USEA responded
by providing 105 specific recommendations from its members for
plundering our natural resources and polluting America's air and
water. In a speech to the group in June 2002, Energy Secretary
Abraham reported that the administration had already implemented
three-quarters of the industry's recommendations and predicted
the rest would pass through Congress shortly.
August 27th, 2002 -- while most of America was heading off for
a Labor Day weekend -- the administration announced that it would
redefine carbon dioxide, the primary cause of global warming,
so that it would no longer be considered a pollutant and would
therefore not be subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
The next day, the White House repealed the act's "new source
review" provision, which requires companies to modernize
pollution control when they modify their plants.
to the National Academy of Sciences, the White House rollback
will cause 30,000 Americans to die prematurely each year. Although
the regulation will probably be reversed in the courts, the damage
will have been done, and power utilities such as Southern Co.
will escape criminal prosecution. As soon as the new regulations
were announced, John Pemberton, chief of staff to the EPA's assistant
administrator for air, left the agency to work for Southern. The
EPA's congressional office chief also left, to join Southern's
lobbying shop, Bracewell, Patterson.
summer 2003, the White House had become a virtual pi-ata for energy
moguls. In August, the administration proposed limiting the authority
of states to object to offshore-drilling decisions, and it ordered
federal land managers across the West to ease environmental restrictions
for oil and gas drilling in national forests. The White House
also proposed removing federal protections for most American wetlands
and streams. As an astounded Republican, Rep. Christopher Shays,
told me, "It's almost like they want to alienate people who
care about the environment, as if they believe that this will
help them with their core."
From Bad to Worse
August 30th, president bush nominated Utah's three-term Republican
Gov. Mike Leavitt to replace his beleaguered EPA head, Christine
Todd Whitman, who was driven from office, humiliated in even her
paltry efforts to moderate the pillage. In October, Leavitt was
confirmed by the Senate.
Gale Norton, Leavitt has a winning personality and a disastrous
environmental record. Under his leadership, Utah tied for last
as the state with the worst environmental enforcement record and
ranked second-worst (behind Texas) for both air quality and toxic
releases. As governor, Leavitt displayed the same contempt for
science that has characterized the Bush administration. He fired
more than seventy scientists employed by state agencies for producing
studies that challenged his political agenda. He fired a state
enforcement officer who penalized one of Leavitt's family fish
farms for introducing whirling disease into Utah, devastating
the state's wild-trout populations.
has a penchant for backdoor deals to please corporate polluters.
Last year he resurrected a frivolous and moribund Utah lawsuit
against the Interior Department and then settled the suit behind
closed doors without public involvement, stripping 6 million acres
of wilderness protections. This track record does not reflect
the independence, sense of stewardship and respect for science
and law that most Americans have the right to expect in our nation's
chief environmental guardian.
Threat to Democracy
of Americans will pay the Republican campaign debt to the energy
industry with global instability, depleted national coffers and
increased vulnerability to price shocks in the oil market.
will also pay with reduced prosperity and quality of life at home.
Pollution from power plants and traffic smog will continue to
skyrocket. Carbon-dioxide emissions will aggravate global warming.
Acid rain from Midwestern coal plants has already sterilized half
the lakes in the Adirondacks and destroyed the forest cover in
the high peaks of the Appalachian range up into Canada. The administration's
attacks on science and the law have put something even greater
at risk. Americans need to recognize that we are facing not just
a threat to our environment but to our values, and to our democracy.
up, I was taught that communism leads to dictatorship and capitalism
to democracy. But as we've seen from the the Bush administration,
the latter proposition does not always hold. While free markets
tend to democratize a society, unfettered capitalism leads invariably
to corporate control of government.
most visionary leaders have long warned against allowing corporate
power to dominate the political landscape. In 1863, in the depths
of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln lamented, "I have the Confederacy
before me and the bankers behind me, and I fear the bankers most."
Franklin Roosevelt echoed that sentiment when he warned that "the
liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the
growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than
their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism
-- ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by
any controlling power."
more than ever, it is critical for American citizens to understand
the difference between the free-market capitalism that made our
country great and the corporate cronyism that is now corrupting
our political process, strangling democracy and devouring our
capitalists do not want free markets, they want dependable profits,
and their surest route is to crush competition by controlling
government. The rise of fascism across Europe in the 1930s offers
many informative lessons on how corporate power can undermine
a democracy. In Spain, Germany and Italy, industrialists allied
themselves with right-wing leaders who used the provocation of
terrorist attacks, continual wars, and invocations of patriotism
and homeland security to tame the press, muzzle criticism by opponents
and turn government over to corporate control. Those governments
tapped industrial executives to run ministries and poured government
money into corporate coffers with lucrative contracts to prosecute
wars and build infrastructure. They encouraged friendly corporations
to swallow media outlets, and they enriched the wealthiest classes,
privatized the commons and pared down constitutional rights, creating
short-term prosperity through pollution-based profits and constant
wars. Benito Mussolini's inside view of this process led him to
complain that "fascism should really be called 'corporatism.'
the European democracies unraveled into fascism, America confronted
the same devastating Depression by reaffirming its democracy.
It enacted minimum-wage and Social Security laws to foster a middle
class, passed income taxes and anti-trust legislation to limit
the power of corporations and the wealthy, and commissioned parks,
public lands and museums to create employment and safeguard the
best way to judge the effectiveness of a democracy is to measure
how it allocates the goods of the land: Does the government protect
the commonwealth on behalf of all the community members, or does
it allow wealth and political clout to steal the commons from
George W. Bush and his court are treating our country as a grab
bag for the robber barons, doling out the commons to large polluters.
Last year, as the calamitous rollbacks multiplied, the corporate-owned
TV networks devoted less than four percent of their news minutes
to environmental stories. If they knew the truth, most Americans
would share my fury that this president is allowing his corporate
cronies to steal America from our children.