Environmental Policy under the New
Big Petroleum Takes Power
By Mark Sommer*
by a Cabinet rich in energy executives, George W. Bush, who took
office Saturday as President of the United States, could halt environmental
progress and abandon the crucial Kyoto Protocol negotiations on
curbing greenhouse gas emissions
BERKELEY - President George W. Bush has named
his cabinet, sprinkling a few African- and Arab-Americans, Hispanics
and women among the familiar white males of his father's generation.
Despite its colorful camouflage, the team Bush has assembled is
as ideologically narrow as it is ethnically eclectic. His idea of
diversity is to select executives from every sector of the energy
and automotive industries.
Son of a man who made his first million in
oil, before following his father into politics Bush Jr. never struck
much oil drilling in the windblown West Texas plains twenty years
ago. But he struck paydirt time and again using family connections
and an affable persona to attract well-heeled Eastern investors
into ventures that mysteriously lost them millions but left his
own wallet bulging.
Yet his chronic failure to produce profits
didn't greatly concern his backers. They took hefty tax deductions
to cover their losses and kept their eyes on a larger prize - access
to ''Poppy'', then Vice President George Bush. Many of those who
poured pocket change down Dubya's (George 'W') dry holes later bankrolled
his 1994 gubernatorial debut. Now it's payback time as they and
their friends receive appointments and prepare industry-friendly
policies for an oil-slick Bush Restoration.
Bush's senior advisers are a cozy coterie of
energy interests that resemble less a cabinet than a corporate boardroom.
As George Sr.'s defense secretary, Vice President
Dick Cheney orchestrated the 1990 Gulf War to reassert US domination
of Middle Eastern oil. Returning to the private sector in 1993,
he headed Texas-based Halliburton, the world's largest oil drilling
Backing up Bush and Cheney on energy issues
will be a team whose record consistently favors the industries they
are intended to regulate. Former Transportation Secretary Andrew
Card was a top auto industry lobbyist before being designated Bush's
chief of staff. Energy secretary-designate Spencer Abraham fought
Clean Air regulations and improved fuel efficiency standards as
the Senator from Detroit. As Colorado's attorney general, interior
secretary-designate Gale Norton - a protegee of James Watt, Ronald
Reagan's notorious interior secretary - was a strong advocate of
individual and corporate property rights against federal efforts
to constrain drilling, mining, logging and grazing.
With a corporate ''oilygarchy'' at its helm,
what energy and environmental policies can we expect from a Bush
II White House?
- A de facto abandonment of Kyoto climate negotiations.
At last November's Hague climate change conference, the Clinton
administration stalled forward movement by insisting on counting
US forests as ''carbon sinks'' in order to minimize the US commitment
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Siding with the energy industry's
Global Climate Coalition, George W. questions the preponderance
of scientific evidence that the earth is warming and calls instead
for still ''more research.'' His administration will likely stonewall
any international efforts to reduce fossil fuel use. And in the
absence of US cooperation, other advanced industrial nations will
feel little pressure to move ahead on their own.
- Increasing US energy consumption. Americans
today are producing 12 percent more carbon dioxide than eight years
ago and consuming 1.3 percent more fossil fuel than just twelve
months ago. Only a global recession could reduce the surging demand
- Aggressive exploitation of new domestic and
global energy sources. Most controversial will be the Bush Administration's
proposal to drill in Alaska's Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Advocates
argue that drilling would greatly reduce US dependence on foreign
oil. But geologists predict that at best these pristine coastal
plains would yield one to two million barrels a day, reducing US
oil imports from 60 to 50 percent. The Bush administration's real
interest in drilling in Alaska, say independent analysts, is not
reducing imports but increasing US oil industry profits.
- Assertive use of military power to enforce
US dominance in oil-rich regions of the world. Heightened hostilities
in the Middle East may well provoke a new war in the next several
years. Many observers suspect that with the same team in place that
waged his father's Gulf War blitzkrieg, Bush and Cheney will launch
their own techno-jihad, perhaps to avenge Poppy's humiliation at
being outlasted by Saddam Hussein.
The American public remains ambivalent about
its profligate energy use. Many express concern about an endangered
environment but few are willing to accept the mild inconveniences
required to reduce their own consumption. It appears that only increasing
cost will raise public consciousness and spur conservation. And
George W.'s energy-rich but ethically impoverished administration
will be only too happy to oblige.