WASHINGTON, D.C., March 14—President George W. Bush could use a dose of Al Gore’s “I’m my own man” medicine right about now. Despite his campaign pledges to seek a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants, Bush told Republican lawmakers this week he no longer intends to push for restrictions.
The reason? A “cabinet-level” review, wrote The New York Times, “had concluded that Mr. Bush’s original promise had been a mistake inconsistent with the broader goal of increasing domestic energy production.”
The oil industry, with its long-term interest in pollution-producing fossil fuels, gets credit for this policy reversal. Its players permeate the Bush cabinet. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, who once led a Denver-based energy company, was a partner with the president in an oil-drilling operation. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, an academic by profession, also sat on the board of directors of Chevron, which named an oil tanker named after her.
The White House acknowledges that Vice President Dick Cheney, the former oil exec who’s now the prime minister of Bush’s government, and Spencer Abraham, the former Michigan free-market nut who runs the Energy Department, exerted the greatest influence in getting Bush to change his mind.
Bush could hardly say no. Both he and his father hail from the Texas oil patch. Shrub owes his political life to the state’s behemoth power producers—namely Enron, Dynergy, and Reliant—which have been making a killing selling juice in the deregulated California market. Enron in particular has been a big giver to Bush since his gubernatorial days and led the pack in pumping dough into his presidential campaign. Kenneth Lay, Enron’s chief executive and a big contributor to Bush, is an adviser to the Energy Secretary Abraham.
With Abraham paving the way as the Dr. Strangelove of free-market economics, Bushites argue for a nationwide deregulation of electricity that will allow the private sector to control production, transportation, and distribution of energy resources. Under that scheme, the producers would—for the first time ever—be in a position to dictate consumer prices for electricity. Carbon dioxide curbs like the one Bush originally supported could throw a monkey wrench into the works, constituting what Little George and Big Daddy George consider to be destructive federal regulation.
Cheney, the man who really runs the government, is Big Oil through and through. In a parochial sense he represents the Wyoming congressional delegation, which opposes emission standards, and is locked into Big Oil through his past service as Halliburton CEO.
Bush’s decision leaves Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator, out on a limb. The Washington Post today quotes an anonymous EPA official as saying, “If you look at her past statements, she said she was supporting what was in the president’s campaign plan. It’s his prerogative to decide if he wants to change that, and she will follow his lead.”
In backtracking on carbon dioxide, Bush may pick up votes for his tax-cut plan in the Senate, by appeasing the Louisiana Dems John Breaux and Mary Landrieu. He also strokes the interests of the evermore powerful Senate energy czar, Frank Murkowski, Republican from Alaska.