The Word "Chaos" Cannot Do Justice
The word "chaos" cannot do justice to the omnibus energy legislation properly mired in something called the House- Senate conference. Inside tyranny by the Republicans and the outside full nelson grip on Congress by the oil, gas and coal corporations are driving the Democrats to think about Filibuster. And deservedly, the bill merits defeat. In fact, nobody but a few insiders even know all that is in the bill. Where are the pages containing the changes, rejections, additions and golden handshake insertions, ask the Democrats and the press. The Republicans have excluded the Democrats from many deliberations on this monster legislation, marinated in oil and driven by cash register politics.
Let's back up a bit to see what is at stake for the American people. Our economy wastes more energy than any other country- vehicles, lighting, heating, air conditioning, etc.- which is another way of saying, waste for consumers is greater sales for the energy companies- your electric, gas and oil company. So there is a conflict of interest here and the energy industry holds the trump cards of power, influence and money in Washington, D.C. On the other hand, there are all kinds of efficient technologies that are practical, working in some locales, or waiting on the shelf to be applied to production engineering. Back in the mid-seventies, energy efficiency engineers -- hardheaded, practical types -- were saying that the nation wastes over half its energy- for starters!
Today, the average fuel efficiency of your new vehicle is the lowest in over 20 years! GM is going backwards into the future, humming the noxious tune of the giant Hummer, with the Bushes giving owners a gigantic, first year deduction if they are in some sorts of business. Furthermore, with the CEO of BP (British Petroleum), Lord John Browne, referring to his big company as "Beyond Petroleum," selling solar energy ($300 million in sales last year) and warning about global warming, isn't it time to dredge up old solar energy technologies and new refinements as a core of future energy policy?
Now look at the omnibus energy bill's offerings. There are major but vague tax breaks for domestic oil exploration and development, as if this long pampered and subsidized industry needs more tax-payer "incentives" to make more megaprofits. The bill contains no significant increase in average fuel economy standards- a bill of rights for producing more gas-guzzlers that eat into your budget and pollute the air.
A huge new taxpayer- guaranteed Alaska natural gas pipeline, owned by big companies who want you to assure they get a price immune from market forces, is also in the mix. This one is too much for natural gas companies in our southwest who recoil against a future competitors' unfair corporate welfare.
The Republicans have supported provisions that opens the Arctic refuge to drilling, but has met stiff opposition. More likely is yet another taxpayer subsidy for new atomic energy plants and more immunity for nuclear power in case of a catastrophic meltdown accident. There is more immunity for the makers of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that has polluted water supplies around the nation, as it is being phased out. A Senate-passed provision that would have made electric companies increase their use of wind, solar and other renewable fuels (the way the publicly owned SMUD electric district is doing in Sacramento, California) was dropped.
The bill still contains some modest assistance to the poor to pay heating bills (certainly the oil companies like this assured payment), a very small program to assist consumers who conserve energy by weatherizing their residences, and a little research on climate change. Significantly, the latter does not regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from power companies and vehicles which are connected to global warming, early melting of glaciers and turbulent storms. If you ask the people what they want, the answer is more clean, efficient and, where practical, renewable energy. For many years, solar energy in all forms has scored very high on public opinion polls. But for a majority of Congress and its grasping hydrocarbon and nuclear lobbyists, its more fossil fuels, uranium, your tax dollars, and environmental damage from the ground to the stratosphere.
Better to shelve the whole congealed greedy mess and start listening to the people next year. In the meantime, you all conserve wherever you can, and, if you are able, walk some more. For more information visit www.USPIRG.org, www.citizen.org, and www.ucsusa.org -- it is not too late to let your Members of Congress know your opinion on the energy legislation.
Ralph Nader is America’s leading consumer advocate. He is the founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, and has twice run for President as a Green Party candidate. His latest book is Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President (St. Martin’s Press, 2002)
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