BBC News | AMERICAS | Bush energy plan: Policy or payback?
BBC News Online: World: Americas
Friday, 18 May, 2001, 02:41 GMT 03:41 UK
Bush energy plan: Policy or payback?
By Greg Palast in Houston
Houston is home to some Bush's biggest financial supporters
A new power plant every week for
20 years, new nukes, drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge - is this an
energy policy, or a payback for President Bush's big campaign contributors?
From the moment George W Bush announced he was running for president, m came in from Texas-based energy companies.
But they are hundreds
of millions of dollars better off from his time as governor of Texas - and
because of decisions taken in the first months of his presidency.
When it comes to pollution, Texas is champ, the number one state in emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals.
A visit to the city of Houston is enough to confirm that status.
A 24 km (15 mile) wide forest of
smokestacks stands on the edge of Houston, a place famous for pumping out
pollution, profits and the political donations which put George Bush into
the White House.
There a mile long cloud of black
smoke, with flames 60 metres (200 ft) high erupts out of a Houston cracking
plant as a ruined batch of ethylene and other toxic chemicals is burned off
after a hydrogen line snapped.
Such accidents are common on this side of Houston,
where poisonous smoke rains on local neighbourhoods.
And it is not just visible emissions locals have to worry about.
LaNell Anderson lived in the shadow
of the Houston smoke stacks - her mother and father both died young, victims
of bone cancer and lung disease, which made Ms Anderson suspicious.
She started taking air samples after an ethylene leak caused the local high school running team to collapse on the track.
Lab analysis of her bucket samples has found carcinogens in the air that are way above legal limits.
She has since found that local cancer cases are twice
the normal rate.
Driving around the area it is possible to smell hydrogen sulphide in the air, a contravention of regulations.
"They're not supposed to be releasing
anything, these are outside chemical impacts, that's not supposed to happen
its supposed to stop at the fence," she says.
So how do the polluters get away with it?
Ms Anderson has her own theory about "vending machine governance, where the lobbyists put the money in and
out comes slacker regulation."
Centre for petrochemicals
Texas is the centre of America's petrochemical industry - home to the nation's biggest refinery, Exxon's plant in Baytown.
Ms Anderson has Exxon in her sights,
"they're the largest emitter in Harris County and they have the worst attitude
of any corporation I've ever witnessed," she said.
Exxon would not accept her assessment and neither would George W Bush.
As Texas governor, Mr Bush quietly
set up a committee led by Exxon, with other big oil and chemical companies,
to advise him what to do about the state's deadly air pollution.
Regulators wanted compulsory cuts
in emissions of up to 50% - this "secret" committee instead proposed making
the cuts voluntary.
Mr Bush duly steered the polluters plan through the state legislature.
law made it illegal to donate money to Mr Bush as governor whilst such legislation
was under consideration.
But that month, Mr Bush declared for his candidacy for president - making
the 0,000 donated by committee members and their representatives completely
The bill passed and pollution did
go down - by just 3% - saving the companies hundreds of millions of dollars
compared to the compulsory cut.
And there has been a bonus for chemical industry donors since Mr Bush became president.
The BBC's Newsnight programme learnt
he is quietly restricting public access to estimates of the number of people
who will burn or die in the event of a catastrophic explosion near these
A walk through downtown Houston takes you past the headquarters of some of Mr Bush's biggest campaign fund donors.
The El Paso Corporation, which gave
0,000 to the Republican campaign, is now under investigation for manipulating
the California power market.
Other big contributors include Dynegy, which gave 0,000 and Reliant, which gave 0,000.
And the Enron Corporation, America's
number one power trading company, has given more money than any other to
Mr Bush's political campaigns.
William S Farish, president of W S Farish and Co, gave 0,000. Mr Bush subsequently made him ambassador to Great Britain.
Investigations are proceeding into profiteering by power traders during the California energy crisis and blackouts.
Biggest industry donators to Bush campaign
Koch Industries 0,000
BP Amoco 0,000
El Paso Energy 7,000
Chevron Oil Corp 0,000
Reliant Energy 2,000
Texas Utilities 5,000
The state of California has accused
the El Paso Corporation and Dynegy of deliberately restricting the flow of
natural gas through the pipeline from Texas creating an artificial shortage
which caused prices to go up ten-fold.
President Clinton ordered an end
to speculation in energy prices in California, which bit into the profits
of El Paso, Reliant, Enron and Dynegy.
Between them the four companies
gave .5m to Mr Bush and the Republicans. Three days after his inauguration
Mr Bush swept away Mr Clinton's anti-speculation orders.
Profits for these four power traders are now up 0m in the first quarter.
And protection against pollution
is set to weaken further, the BBC's Newsnight programme has discovered that
deep in Mr Bush's new budget, the million-dollar fund for civil enforcement
to deter pollution will be axed.
In the future law enforcement will be left to locals.
Click here to watch Greg Palast's report
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change |
US Environmental Protection Agency |
UN Climate Change Convention |
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
| BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©