Friday, July 29, 2005

Summer is here, and the traffic isn’t horrible, isn’t even visible some of the time.

I drive to Concord at least once a week, and even around the lake in Meredith the traffic isn’t nearly as awful as it usually is. The price of gasoline isn’t going down – and probably never will. There are more cars on the road, and fewer SUVs. More SUVs and trucks are on the side of the road with For Sale signs on them. In spite of the endless heat and humidity, there is some justifiable fear about the cost of heating homes this winter. The economy is uncertain. Good jobs are still disappearing, and are replaced with lower paying service jobs. No wonder there is trepidation about traveling. The future isn’t looking so bright.

With skyrocketing fuel prices, one would think this would be a great time to form a sensible national energy policy that would lessen our dependence on oil, and encourage conservation. One would be wrong. The energy bill being crafted by our elected officials is anything but sensible, and actually increases our dependence on oil, while decreasing protections to our supply of clean water. The current energy bill is a valentine for oil and utility companies. The oil and utility companies have spent $367 million lobbying Congress in the last 2 years. Their reward for this persistence is $3.2 billion in new tax breaks to the oil and gas industries, $2 billion in funds to study ultra-deepwater research companies are already pursuing without our tax dollars, $125 million to reimburse oil and gas producers for 115% of the cost of reclaiming and closing orphaned wells. Even as we taxpayers are being asked to subsidize oil companies, they are enjoying record profits. Oil industry CEO’s received a 109.1% increase in their salaries, between 2003 and 2004.

The bill’s total package of tax breaks for energy companies comes in at around $11.5 billion. The Bush administration had recommended a paltry $6.7 billion in tax breaks. At a time where energy is increasingly needed, and record profits are being amassed by energy companies, one wonders at this corporate welfare. One doesn’t wonder for long, because in addition to the money spent on lobbying, Texas based Exxon Mobil contributed $935.266 to federal candidates for the 2004 elections, more than any other oil company. Chevron contributed $498,992 to candidates in 2004. Southern Co. a utility company contributed $1.1 million on candidates, and just won the repeal of a 1935 law that prohibits utility companies from using customer revenue to subsidize non-regulated business. We are hooked on oil, and our elected officials are hooked on energy money.

One of the most egregious provisions in the proposed House energy bill, would have allowed oil companies to duck out of their responsibility for clean up in areas contaminated by gasoline additive MTBE. The additive has polluted drinking water across the nation, including NH. Some members of the House put together a deal that would relieve the oil companies of any direct responsibility for MTBE cleanup – those poor beleaguered oil companies raking in record profits right now. These representatives suggested a plan that would allow polluters to put a small percentage into a special trust fund, and the rest of the tab would be picked up by the taxpayers. NH is in the process of suing some of these oil companies, which makes it all the more surprising that NH Rep. Charles Bass was one of the supporters of the deal to let polluters off the hook, at taxpayer expense.

The last energy bill before Congress didn’t pass, because of the contention over MTBE. Our entire delegation voted against the energy bill because of it. This year, Bass peeled off, and decided to cast his lot with Texas Reps. Joe Barton and Tom DeLay, who represent the state that is home to the polluters responsible for destroying drinking water in NH. Bass claimed that being on this committee allowed him a voice to help NH. It’s hard to envision how the plan was actually helping NH. Making taxpayers pay for the reckless disregard shown by the oil companies is a curious way of “helping” NH. The only beneficiaries are the oil companies, and the Texas Congressional delegation.

Why would Bass go against the best interests of his state? A look at his 2004 campaign donations may offer some insight. In a list breaking down contributions by business sector, electric utilities ranked seventh place in donating money to Bass, and oil and gas came in 20th place. Bass also received a tidy sum from Tom DeLay’s PAC. In looking at sums already reported for the 2006 campaign cycle, Exxon Mobil is ranking in 7th place as a Bass donor, and energy PACs are in 4th place. Yessiree, Charlie Bass was doing a fine job for Texas, until the MTBE deal fell through, and was taken out of the energy bill. Congressman Bass now has some serious egg on his face, and a slimy money trail to follow through this next election cycle.

The energy bill doesn’t address conservation in a meaningful way, does not raise CAFÉ standards for fuel efficiency, and calls on utility companies to be getting 10% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. This would be laughable if we weren’t seeing the fallout from our national energy policy right here in NH. While driving to Concord earlier this week, I heard a bulletin on the radio, advising seniors, people with respiratory problems, and young children to avoid spending time outside because of the unhealthy levels of air pollution. We expect to hear this in LA, or Texas – but not NH. As long as oil men are running our government, and oil companies are providing vast sums of campaign funds to our politicians, we can expect to stay the course – continued dependence on unstable foreign oil, and increased dependence on serious polluters like coal and nuclear power. And whenever things go wrong, we can count on our legislators to find a way for the taxpayers to pick up the tab.

“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” George Washington