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Environmental Policy under the New US Government

Big Petroleum Takes Power

By Mark Sommer

Supported 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 firm.

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 for energy.

- 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.

(Copyright IPS)

* Mark Sommer is an author and columnist who directs the Mainstream Media Project, a US-based effort to bring new voices to the broadcast media.

Tierramerica Special Edition - Climate Change


Copyright © 2001 Tierramérica. Todos los Derechos Reservados

Ilustración: Mauricio Gomez Morín.
llustration: Mauricio Gómez Morín

External Links

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (official site)

The Kyoto Protocol

Global Climate Coalition

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