Monday, July 19, 2004

I'm Shocked! Refineries use clout to hold off regulators

Maybe this is a reason the Bush administration has been so slow to pass chemical plant security legislation opposed by the chemical industry:
Petroleum is not just the nation's No. 1 source of energy. Refineries are often the lifeblood of their communities. That gives them tremendous clout. With battalions of top-gun lawyers and lobbyists, they have influenced the nation's energy policy and fought regulatory crackdowns on pollution. And their political action committees pump millions of dollars into the coffers of powerful elected leaders in Washington.
Not only do they often provide the only good jobs in the community, but they also give to community groups, schools, church picnics and social functions.

And along with the money they donate to politicians, the petroleum industry has gained considerable clout in Washington D.C., getting the Bush administration to add industry-friendly provisions to the stalled energy bill, getting an executive order that would require "federal agencies, including the EPA, to consider the effect of any new rule on the energy supply and to expedite any energy-related projects," and rolling back rules requiring refineries to upgrade their pollution controls when modernizing the facility. Environmental controls have been blamed for high gas prices, and Republicans are even exploiting the slow employment situation in an attempt to weaken environmental protections:
Last month, the U.S. House approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, that would allow new refineries in areas with high unemployment to bypass some federal and state environmental regulations.

The committee didn't discuss the bill until last week. Barton acknowledged that it was unusual to pass a bill without holding hearings first or having the committee act on it, and he was blasted by Democrats for doing so.

Barton said the nation lacks refining capacity, an urgent problem that needs to be addressed. And he sees the effort as reining in what he calls out-of-control environmentalists.
Oh, and don't forget to follow the money:

The Bush re-election campaign is the prime recipient of oil and gas political donations. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, both former oil-industry executives, have received $2.4 million since 1993.

Barton, whose committee has legislative oversight of the EPA, receives more money from the energy industry than any other member of the House of Representatives.

Commerce Secretary Don Evans was an oil-company executive. Jeffrey Holmstead, a lawyer appointed to oversee the EPA division responsible for air pollution, worked for a law firm that represented utility companies.