Phony and Oily
As the clamor about the phony energy crisis increases, it is well to remember that both Al Gore and George W. Bush are men of oil. Gore comes from a family that has been closely connected to Occidental Petroleum and still holds a more than symbolic $500,000 of the firm’s stock. Dubya’s Connecticut Yankee father cut his teeth as a Texas newcomer in the ’50s on the then innovative offshore drilling company, Zapata, joining the Liedke brothers, who went on to build Pennzoil into a modern oil giant.
Since Clinton and Gore took office, they have welcomed mergers among the big oil firms, and tried as much as possible to keep the biggest polluters and gas guzzlers going strong. It was, after all, under Clinton-Gore that the modestly efficient van gave way to the unwieldy, dangerous SUV tank. In addition to being a monument to backward design, the SUV eats gas. To accommodate it, Clinton and Gore dragged their feet on implementing fuel-efficiency standards. Most recently, in an effort to lure producers into dropping prices, Gore proposed declaring a moratorium on royalties the big companies pay the government for drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bush straightforwardly supports the oil industry, telling American Gas magazine earlier this year: “The natural gas business is coming back. And that’s good. That’s how we become less dependent. . . . I think we need to wean ourselves off of foreign oil and rely upon other products. In my state of Texas, we’re doing that. We’ve got a huge demand for natural gas, which is, as you know, immune from OPEC and immune from overseas pricing controls.”
Currently, the oil companies are engaged in two broad objectives. The first is to tie down the world’s remaining known reserves so they can be brought onstream in accordance with the industry’s long-term interests. The second objective is the removal of federal regulation over production and distribution. During the 1920s, the oil companies fought off federal regulation with the passage of less restrictive state laws. In the mid 1970s, they persuaded Jimmy Carter to begin the deregulation of natural gas, which often is discovered when drilling for oil. Clinton and Gore have pushed this forward by supporting oil mergers and by taking the opening steps in the industry’s fight to deregulate the electric utilities.
Kathleen McGinty, who helped write Al Gore’s new energy proposal, works for a law firm that represents power companies that would reap billions from the vice president’s plan. It should come as no surprise that she also was the White House’s former chief environmental adviser.
Gore’s scheme envisions $68 billion in “tax incentives, loans, grants, bonds, or other financial instruments to power plants and industries that come forward with projects that promise to dramatically reduce climate- and health-threatening pollution.”
Gore’s campaign acknowledged that the proposal was drafted with the help of McGinty, a former Gore staff member and chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She now serves as an “informal” adviser to Gore, and was assigned to brief environmentalists on the idea before it was unveiled. She currently works for Troutman Sanders, a Washington law firm that represents power companies, including the huge American Electric Power as well as Southern Company. Both firms produce electricity by burning heavily polluting coal, and both told UPI that McGinty advises them on environmental issues. Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway said McGinty was a respected “leader of the environmental community.”
Said McGinty, “I provide advice . . . to anyone who asks me. Does the vice president ask for my views? Absolutely. Do people in the business community ask for my views? Absolutely. And is that anything new? Absolutely not.”
An unsettling story about a key Republican congressman’s “intensely personal” relationship with a lobbyist involved in the health-care debate is being reported by the Bakersfield Californian. The paper claims that Bill Thomas, chair of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, has a relationship with a Washington lobbyist for health-care firms that raises conflict-of-interest questions. Thomas, who has represented Bakersfield since 1978, was the chief architect of the Republicans’ watered-down bill on prescription-drug benefits for Medicare recipients.
The lobbyist is Deborah Steelman, who represents a range of health-care firms, from drug companies to HMOs to nursing homes. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Steelman’s lobbying income in 1997, representing firms such as Aetna, Cigna, Prudential, and Goldman Sachs, totaled $2 million. A former Reagan administration official, she serves as a health-policy adviser to George W. Bush and is a key fundraiser for Bush and for congressional Republicans. She has been mentioned as a possible appointee for secretary of Health and Human Services in a Bush administration.
Thomas and Steelman, both of whom are married, refused the paper’s requests for interviews. According to the Californian, its stories were initially based on secondhand reports of conversations with Cathy Abernathy, Thomas’s congressional aide, who told friends she was worried that a relationship between the congressman and the lobbyist would hurt Thomas as well as damage Abernathy’s career.
“I have no conflicts of interest with any individuals or lobbyists or constituents who work with me,” Thomas told the paper. “I’ve worked with Deborah Steelman closely for the past two years, [and] have known her for 10 years; she promotes the Republican position in health-care issues as well as anyone, [and] was instrumental to our efforts on the Medicare Commission.”
Last week Steelman issued a statement, which said in part: “I have professional relationships with many members of Congress, including Congressman Bill Thomas. I was appointed by Senator Lott to the Medicare Commission of which Congressman Thomas served as co-chair with Senator John Breaux. I spent long hours on the Commission’s work and met often with Congressman Thomas. The insinuations in the Bakersfield newspaper are repulsive. To suggest I would stoop to ‘an inappropriate relationship’ to achieve legislative results is repugnant and sexist.”
Reassuring words from Bill Richardson’s Department of Energy about the fire that ravaged thousands of acres around the Hanford nuclear complex in eastern Washington won’t work this time around. In 1998, tests picked up more than a dozen radioactive hot spots on the 560-square-mile site along the Columbia River.
Investigators found that the radiation was being spread by fruit flies, ants, worms, roaches, and gnats. One report determined that a Hanford worker’s trailer was contaminated with radioactivity coming from the garbage can, a cutting board near the sink, and food wrappers. This suggests that even before the fire, radioactive contamination was working its way off the reservation into the surrounding environment.
Toby Does Ralph
With attacks on Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader escalating—including The New York Times‘ brusque dismissal of him as an egotist in a lead editorial—the Gore campaign revealed that it has recruited former Democratic Connecticut congressman Toby Moffett to advise it about how to handle the consumer advocate. Nader is seen by Gore’s handlers as a threat to the vice president in the crucial California race.
“My advice is, don’t attack Ralph directly,” Moffett told The Washington Post.
Both Moffett and Nader are Arab Americans from Connecticut. They quarreled 20 years ago and haven’t spoken since because of what Moffett described as Nader’s “inclination to eat his own.” At the time, Moffett was running for the Senate, and Nader accused him of being a lackey for the insurance and arms industries. Nader subsequently was credited with having helped to defeat Moffett. Although touted as a reformer, Moffett became best known in Washington as a lobbyist for Monsanto.
Moffett, now with the Washington law firm of Higgins, McGovern, said in an interview that he is not a lobbyist for Monsanto, but was once a Monsanto vice president for international affairs. He described himself as a “friend of Al’s,” but said he is not working for the Gore campaign in any official capacity and has not been recruited to “deal with” Nader. He said he is “coordinating an effort of progressives” that seeks to “warn the left what it means to vote for Nader . . . a Republican majority in the House and Senate, and the loss of the White House.”
Right-wing Christers in Washington are in a tizzy over a proposed new French law that would allow the imprisoning of religious “proselytizers” for up to two years for “mental manipulation” of the public. Included among 173 “dangerous sects” listed in the measure are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unificationists, Scientologists, and Baptists, the last of whose practitioners include both Clinton and Gore.
Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi