Energy bill peddles weird science to loot environment
by Franklin Dmitryev
Keeping the world on its present ecologically catastrophic track is the thrust of the 1,100-page energy bill crafted behind closed doors by a group of Congressional Republicans in November.
While the bill has been shrouded in secrecy since its covert inception in Vice-President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, its general direction was never in doubt: production and more production, first of all production of energy from oil and gas, at the expense of human health, the environment, the integrity of science, and conditions of life and labor.
It is the epitome of Bush administration environmental policy. The billions in favors offered to all the most powerful industries do not alter the energy bill’s basic character as massive state intervention in the economy, designed to perpetuate the total dependence of the U.S. on fossil fuels and nuclear energy for years to come.
Those industries would receive nearly $50 billion in tax breaks and subsidies, expedited permits for oil and gas extraction on public lands, and exemptions from some environmental regulations. The bill also encourages uranium mining using toxic chemicals--alarming Native American nations, who have suffered the brunt of uranium mining’s poisons.
Limits would be removed from mergers and acquisitions of electric utilities, setting the stage for a new era of Enron-type plunder. Incredibly, the latest excuse for pushing the Bush-Cheney energy bill was the August U.S.-Canada blackout--just as an earlier excuse was the 2001 California energy crisis engineered by Enron and other energy monopolists.
In an attempt to greenwash the bill, a few crumbs were tossed to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, but the main “renewable" item is ethanol. In reality, its production uses fossil fuels and its use as fuel in cars generates smog, so this is nothing more than a mammoth subsidy for agribusiness giants like Archer Daniels Midland, which was enough to reel in Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle.
The biggest scam of all is Bush’s talk of a “hydrogen economy," conjuring images of clean cars burning hydrogen and emitting nothing but water. In fact, producing, storing and using hydrogen is energy-intensive, and the whole point of Bush and his oil and auto company cronies getting behind hydrogen is to ensure that the energy comes from oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear power, thus keeping the fossil/nuke basis of the economy intact.
It now appears that the energy bill will only be passed after removal of product liability immunity it grants to manufacturers of MTBE, a gasoline additive that has polluted water supplies in over 1,500 communities. Be that as it may, much of the Bush energy policy has already been quietly implemented--including three-quarters of industry requests, according to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in a speech last year. And those are only one section of a long list of environmental rollbacks perpetrated by the Bush-Cheney administration and Congress, usually snuck in and always justified with lies.
BUSH, ENVIRONMENTAL OUTLAW
In the AIR WE BREATHE, Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made several rule changes that broke the Clean Air Act--some under the lying name “Clear Skies"--to allow increased toxic emissions, especially from power plants and refineries. Having promised to keep pursuing enforcement actions, the EPA turned around and dropped cases against dozens of polluting coal-fired power plants.
In the WATER WE DRINK, the EPA stripped Clean Water Act protection from 20 million acres of wetlands and millions of miles of streams, dropped actions against factory farms dumping millions of tons of animal waste into waterways, and allowed mine waste dumping in rivers and lakes--an illegal rule change that was earlier proposed by Clinton’s EPA.
In the COMMUNITIES WHERE WE LIVE, the EPA lifted the ban on selling PCB-contaminated land for redevelopment, slashed cleanup activities at Superfund toxic waste sites, and proposed allowing radioactive materials into hazardous waste dumps, which are disproportionately located near people of color.
For the SPECIES THAT INHABIT THE EARTH, Interior Secretary Gale Norton stopped listing of endangered species and altered a number of reports to hide detrimental consequences of Arctic oil drilling, mountaintop mining and other practices.
On the PUBLIC LANDS, Norton repealed the roadless rule that protected many national forests, halted designation of wilderness lands, and opened up 8.8 million acres of Alaska’s North Slope and vast areas in the Rocky Mountain region to oil drilling, mining and logging, with weakened environmental protection.
DEATHLY FORESTS INITIATIVE
In the FORESTS, Bush permitted national forest and grassland management plans to be made without environmental impact studies. While the energy bill distracted attention, Congress passed Bush’s falsely named “Healthy Forests" bill opening 20 million acres of federal land to subsidized logging. Using the fires that rampaged through Southern California as an excuse, Bush claimed that his giveaway to loggers would prevent such fires. In truth the fires mainly burned on sage and chaparral land where trees are sparse and the main cause of fires is human population.
“Healthy Forests" would increase two of the biggest causes of catastrophic forest fires: logging and road-building. Administration policy also promotes other major causes, including global warming and sprawl.
The Congressional mob fell in line with the President, scapegoating environmentalists for the fires, and bleating for an end to environmental analysis and challenges by the public. Yet, Congressional auditors found that few Forest Service projects to cut wildfire risk were delayed by appeals.
The deceitful name "Healthy Forests" is a perfect example of the lot of science in today’s crisis-ridden state-capitalism. Where it can be applied in production or war, science is well-funded. Where its results reveal too much, they are misrepresented or silenced.
In the case of forests, that means portraying logging--which scientific studies show "has increased fire severity more than any other recent activity"--as the solution. It also means disregarding the letter signed by over 200 scientists calling for an end to all logging on federally owned forests.
In the case of global warming, it means deception, as urged by an infamous leaked memo from Republican strategist Frank Luntz, to stave off mass demands for action: "you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate."
APOLOGETICS TRUMP SCIENCE
Indeed, heavy industry and its political representatives have long used the lack of total certainty as an excuse to avoid putting limits on greenhouse gas emissions, although the evidence is overwhelming. The first harsh consequences of global warming are upon us, from the thousands killed by extreme heat waves in India and Europe, to the fourth year in a row of global grain harvests falling short of demand.
To provide "intellectual support and political cover," in the words of Reagan accomplice Jack Kemp, the oil, coal and auto industries lavishly fund a gang of scientists and pundits to slander, discredit and challenge scientists investigating global warming. Evading the issue, the Bush administration deleted the section on global warming from the EPA’s annual report on air pollution, then tried to stack the EPA's "state of the environment" report with junk science, but was saved by EPA staff, who simply deleted the discussion of global warming for fear of getting caught lying.
That is only the tip of the iceberg of lies as the axis of state, industry, and far-right fanaticism tries to bury science under ideology. First, they hide scientific results, such as the suppressed EPA study on health effects on children from coal-fired power plants.
Second, they use outright lies. One of the most shocking came a week after September 11, 2001, when the White House had the EPA falsely claim that the air around ground zero was safe.
Third, the axis of reaction handpicks who will evaluate science projects, priorities and funding. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson put lead industry cronies on a committee on childhood lead poisoning, and stacked the environmental health advisory committee with friends of the chemical industry.
Today’s science brings into view capitalism’s destruction of its own conditions of existence through its relentless expansion of exploitative production. Frantic to hide the historically transient nature of this stage of human development, the state cannot allow science to proceed without interference.
Where deception falls short, the administration favors stealth, quietly making over 50 rule changes to undermine environmental protection laws. More has been rolled back simply by giving in to lawsuits. Settling a suit pushed by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is the new head of EPA, the Interior Dept. chose to withdraw 3 million acres in Utah from wilderness protection. Interior Secretary Norton has refused to oppose a single lawsuit dismantling protected critical habitat for endangered species. Anti-environmental measures are concealed in spending bills, such as one limiting legal challenges to logging plans in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
These masters of deceit have perfected the art of eliminating enforcement of regulations through budget cuts so effectively that a number of senior career officials in various agencies, though used to bureaucratic infighting, have quit in disgust after seeing their efforts to enforce environmental laws squelched.
CHALLENGE TO THE MOVEMENT
The rulers’ tremendous need for deception and stealth is a measure of the breadth of mass opposition to the kinds of environmental depredations that are being hidden. This opposition has not yet broken out into a mass movement to challenge Bush’s onslaught against all the gains by environmental movements, not only since the 1960s but all the way back to the 1870s.
Nevertheless, the environmental dimension is inseparable from the movements against global capital, as seen once again in last month’s militant demonstrations in Miami against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas negotiations.
Organizing against environmental racism continues too, but it has not yet recovered from the one-two punch of the Clinton administration’s co-opting of many activists, followed by the Bush administration’s hard line.
Local struggles persist as well, like the three weeks of protests last March against destructive illegal logging in the Headwaters redwoods of Northern California, where 45 were arrested. Like so many local struggles, their voices were drowned out by the din of the corporate media at the peak of its war coverage.
However, we must face the fact that media bias is not the only factor holding us back. The movement, locally and nationally, is not only smaller in numbers but narrower in ideas than before the September 11 attacks. It is still suffering from the shock and disorientation brought on by those attacks and the war against Iraq, as well as by the inadequacy of the Left’s response. Militance and activism are needed, but will power and action cannot alone build a mass movement capable of setting in motion a transformation deep enough to alter the basic inhuman trajectory of this society. That will require overcoming the mental chains binding the movement.
The mainstream groups continue to mislead environmentalists into the dead end of reformism, with its focus on lobbying, lawsuits, and the desperation of "Anyone But Bush" electoral politics--disregarding the many deregulation moves either started or continued under Clinton.
The latest push by the professional environmental reformists is a joint venture with labor bureaucrats for a new "Apollo project," a crash program to restructure the country’s economy around clean, renewable energy like solar and wind power.
Greatly preferable as that is to the Bush-Cheney fossil-nuke course, it bases itself on markets plus state planning, and buys into the illusion that "there is no alternative" to capitalism, implicitly accepting its limitless hunger for more and more energy and materials. It is this we must stop if humanity is to have a future--to begin with, by opposing Bush, and at the same time turning away from the rulers’ ground. Otherwise, nothing can uproot this inhuman, nature-destroying world at the brink.
Published by News and Letters Committees