Bush Energy Plan – Policy or Payback?
(BBC Newsnight Transcript)

Greg Palast

Originally aired May 18, 2001

[JIMI HENDRIX PLAYS, ‘STAR-SPANGLED BANNER.’]

VOICE OF JIM HIGHTOWER, FORMER TEXAS STATE AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER
“Any fantasy that a CEO has can come true if you put enough money into Bush’s political ambitions.”

LIST OF BIGGEST ENERGY INDUSTRY DONORS TO REPUBLICAN PARTY DURING BUSH CAMPAIGN:

ENRON $1,800,000
EXXON $1,200,000
KOCH INDUSTRIES $970,000
SOUTHERN $900,000
BP AMOCO $800,000
LEHMAN BROTHERS $808,000
EL PASO ENERGY $787,000
CHEVRON OIL CORP 780,000
RELIANT ENERGY $642,000
TEXAS UTILITIES TXU $635,000

VOICE OF LaNell ANDERSON, TEXAN BUCKET BRIGADE
“Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the that the lobbyists’ money has found its mark”

[Bush energy policy line at top…]
From the moment GB announced he was running for President 50 MILLION dollars came in from Texas-based energy companies but they got a payback of 5 billion dollars – half delivered since GB was President and half while he was still Governor of Texas which is where it all begins.

[GREG PALAST IN AN AIRPLANE OVER HOUSTON, TEXAS]
Welcome to Toxic Texas – a 15 mile wide forest of smoke stacks on the edge of Houston. A place famous for pumping out pollution, profits and the
political donations which put George Bush into the White House. Let’s go down and take a look.

PALAST:
When it comes to pollution, Texas is champ the No 1 state in emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals

[FLARING SMOKE stack -]
We watched this mile long cloud of black smoke – and flames 200 ft high — erupting out of a Houston cracking plant — they are burning off a ruined batch of ethylene and other toxic chemicals after a hydrogen line snapped.

This sort of accident is common this side of Houston where poisonous smoke rains on local neighbourhoods. And its not just VISIBLE emissions locals have to worry about.

LaNell Anderson lived in the shadow of the Houston smoke stacks – her mother and father died too young – bone cancer and lung disease – and LaNell became suspicious.

She started taking air samples after an ethylene leak caused the local high school running team to collapse on the track.

Lab analysis of her bucket samples has found carcinogens in the air way above legal limits.

LaNell, PULLING AIR SAMPLE BAG FROM BUCKET: ‘THIS IS AN Excellent sample’ ….

She has since found that local cancer cases are twice the normal rate. She took us on a toxic tour.

[LANELL INTERVIEW]
GP “What are you doing?”
LA “I’m smelling something – do you smell it”
GP Its disgusting but what is it we’re smelling?
LA Its Hydrogen Sulphide because its that bad eggs smell
GP Are they supposed to be releasing Hydrogen Sulphide
LA No they’re not supposed to be releasing anything these are outside chemical impacts that’s not supposed to happen its supposed to stop at that fenceline.

So how do the polluters get away with it?

LANELL Vending machine governance is where the lobbyists put the money in and out comes lax regulation.

LA Its just an ongoing war with the ..they do not care what their neighbours think they do not care if their neighbours die.

This is the home of America’s petrochemical industry – the nation’s biggest refinery, Exxon’s plant in Baytown.

LANELL
Exxon are on my radar – they’re the largest emitter in Harris county and they have the worst attitude of any corporation I’ve ever witnessed…

PALAST:
Exxon wouldn’t accept that and neither would George Bush – as Texas Governor Bush QUIETLY set up a committee led by Exxon, with other big oil and chemical companies to advise him what to do about the state’s deadly air pollution.

SHOT OF ACTUAL LETTER FROM EXXON TO GOVERNOR GEORGE W BUSH

Regulators wanted compulsory cuts in emissions of up to 50%. This “secret” committee instead proposed making the cuts … voluntary. Bush steered the polluters plan through the State legislature.

Texas anti-corruption law makes it illegal to donate money to Bush as Governor while such legislation is under consideration. But that month, Bush declared for President – making the150,000 dollars donated by committee
members and their representatives completely legal.

The bill passed and pollution did go down – by 3% … Saving the companies hundreds of millions of dollars compared to the COMPULSORY cut.

And there’s been a bonus for chemical industry donors since Bush became President. Newsnight learned he’s quietly RESTRICTING public access to
estimates of the number of people who will burn or die in case of a catastrophic explosion
near these plants.

Car Radio OVER SCENES OF SMOGGY HOUSTON:
“This is Randy Lemon’s gardening spot…”

PALAST: On a clear day you can see Downtown Houston

RADIO:
“A car went in through the front doors and out through the back doors”

STILLS OF BASEBALL GAME – HOUSTON ASTROS AT ENRON FIELD.

PALAST IN FRONT OF BALL PARK IN HOUSTON:
This is Enron field – new home to the Houston Astros – $265 million including the sliding roof. You’ve never heard of Enron Corporation? They’re
America’s Number One power trading team and they know you can’t win the power game unless you play the political game and they’re the champs. No one’s given more money to the political campaigns of George Bush than Enron – let’s go see if we can find their HQ.

The biggest power traders are on this corner.

[PALAST WALKING THROUGH DOWNTOWN HOUSTON …]
Is this it? No! El Paso – EL PASO’s in a little trouble, under investigation for manipulating the California power market – luckily they gave 3/4 of a million to the Republican campaign. This it? -No that’s Reliant — $600,000 to the Republicans – Oh [POINTING TO BUILDING ACROSS STREET] Mr Farish’s building … He gave 140 thousand dollars and Bush made him ambassador to Great Britain – the guy who got France put up $400,000 … lets see oh [POINTS TO FOURTH BUILDING] Dynegy! only 300 grand … [LOOKS DOWN STREET] there’s a new building maybe that’s our boys.

PALAST: Investigations are proceeding into profiteering by power traders during the California energy crisis and black-outs. The State of California has accused El Paso corporation and Dynegy of deliberately restricting the flow of natural gas through the pipeline from Texas CREATING an artificial
shortage which caused prices to go up ten fold.

[GRAPHIC – CALIFORNIA GAS PRICE SPIKE.]

[graphic – Clinton notice DOE

So – on December 14 President Clinton ordered an end to speculation in energy prices in California – which bit into the profits of El Paso and Dynegy … and Enron and Reliant too. But they were betting on another horse. Between them they gave $3.5 million to Bush and the Republicans.

Reliant told us “Frankly, we feel some andidate’s philosophies will benefit the company, its stockholders, and its customers more than will others”

Three days after his inauguation Bush swept away Clinton’s anti-speculation orders.

[PHOTO OF BUSH ANNOUNCEMENT ENDING CALIFORNIA ELECTRICITY CONTROLS]

Profits for these four power traders are up 220 million in the first quarter.

PALAST IN FRONT OF ENRON:
After Bush lifted controls Enron’s profits jumped up by 87 million not a bad return on political contributions of 1.8 million dollars.

PALAST IN AIRPLANE TAKING OFF FROM RURAL AIRSTRIP …

We’ve skedaddled out of the big city following the Bush money trail 200 miles West into the Mesquite ranches and cowboy country – but there’s a big hole on the range where the deer and antelopes should be playing.

FILM FROM PALAST’S PLANE OF HUGE STRIP MINE, BLACK MILE-LONG PIT …

PALAST IN AIRPLANE: See that lovely scar down there? that’s a lignite strip mine – about the filthiest fuel you can burn feeds the Alcoa aluminum plant I wonder what its like to live next door to that thing?

Alcoa was facing a demand to cut emissions by 50%, that would have meant replacing the cheap and dirty lignite with clean but expensive natural gas.

But Within a month of passage of Bush’s ‘voluntary’ pollution law,attorneys with the law firm pleading Alcoa’s case to the regulators gave $170,000 to the Republican campaign. Coincidence? Alcoa deny any link they
told us they “exert no control over the legal and lobbying firms” they retain.

According to Alcoa’s own figures not switching to gas saved them $100 million.

PALAST – DRIVING THROUGH SMALL TEXAS TOWN …
In sleepy Rockdale, rancher Wayne Brinkley faces the fallout.

PALAST – POINTING AT DIRTY FARM TRAILER – WHY DON’T YOU CLEAN THAT THING,BUDDY?
WAYNE: YA’ CAN’T. I TRIED EVERYTHING. THAT’S POTASH FROM THE PLANT. SEE THAT RUST ON THAT SHED? THAT’S FROM THE PLANT TOO. BUT IF THEIR
POISONS KILL THAT TREE (POINTS TO OAK), I’LL BE REALLY MAD!

PALAST – LOOKING AT DEAD MESQUITE: Too late for that one

WAYNE: POINTING TO ALCOA ALUMINUM PLANT IN DISTANCE, BROWN SMOKE POURING FROM STACKS …

It’s like Sulphur burning your skin … there’s just lot of pollution comes out of that plant they just don’t seem like they want to do anything about it.

PALAST: And there will be no point going to the Environmental Protection Agency. Newsnight has discovered, deep in Bush’s new budget, the million-dollar fund for civil enforcement to deter pollution will be axed. Law enforcement will be left to locals – and in Texas, the weak State watchdog is letting Alcoa open a new lignite pit 20 miles away.

Other Texas ranchers are stopping by Wayne’s to get a look at their future…

Rancher Billie Woods drives in – Hi wayne how’s it going – Billie’s ranch is now threatened

PALAST TO BILLIE: Its only a little hole – hey, America needs aluminum.

B: Its not a little hole! its 250 feet deep! – they pump out all the water my well will go dry. they run their operations 365 days a year 24 hours a day. I will no longer be able to see stars at night.

Palast voice: Alcoa’s former chief Paul O’Neill is making new friends – Bush named him Secretary of the US Treasury … so O’Neill has to sell off
his Alcoa shares – he’ll get about $100 million. Alcoa made a $100,000 contribution to the Bush Cheney inaugural. They told us this was in honor of Paul O’Neill.

He’s also on Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Group.

Apart from Paul O’Neill, the committee includes Bush’s Commerce Secretary Don Evans – he was CEO of Tom Brown Inc a billion dollar oil and gas
company, and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, a motor industry favorite – they gave him $700,000 last year… and of course Dick Cheney, the Vice President,former boss of Halliburton which builds nuclear power plants and is the world’s largest oil services company. And what a coincidence. Today, the Cheney group recommended building
more nukes, drilling more oil and burning more coal.

MUSIC RADIO DRIVE IN TO AUSTIN
Our hunt for the secret behind Bush’s astonishing fundraising prowess eventually led us to the Texas state capital.

Executives of the big banking firm MBNA invested 3 million dollars in George Bush’s political career. Their boss, Charles M Cawley, contributed $70,000 himself.

IN FRONT OF CAPITOL, WASHINGTON DC: Craig
McDonald – [Director, Texans for Public Justice.]

– what did they get – one of the first major pieces of legislation to go through Congress under President Bush is a bankruptcy bill that protects mbna the largest manufacturer and seller of credit cards, citizens in this country can no longer write off credit card debt when they file for bankruptcy it was a key priority of Mr Cawley and his bank and he bet early and he bet often on our Governor would some day be in the White House and would some day be able to deliver on this favour

PALAST: Wall Street analysts put MBNA’s gain at 75 million dollars

GRAPHIC: PAYBACK $75 MILLION

Cawley is a ‘Pioneer’ – not the kind that lives in a little house on the prairie — but a member of a special club set up by George Bush.

MCDONALD:
“He put together this network of what they call the pioneers, a group of 400 people most of them corporate executives who pledged to raise a minimum of $100,000. That network alone raised over 40 million dollars

PALAST: But what did they get in return? We went into the capital to ask a real Pioneer the tough questions …

[Palast in the Office of Texas State Senator Teel Bivins]
PALAST: Tell us about your chaps
BIVINS: No they’re not chaps! they’re shaps! these are called shaps they’re spelt c.h.a.p.s but I’m in the ranching business that’s what a real Texan does…

Palast Senator Teel Bivins is a power in the Texas Legislature … one of the founding pioneers, along with Ken Lay, CEO of Enron Corporation. George W gave the Senator his nick-name.

BIVINS: I’m Biv – he met me and i said Teel Bivins and he said Biv and that was it I’ve been Biv ever since…

So if Americans want to be on first-name terms with their President, do they have to pay for it?

BIVINS:
The reality is individuals in a country of 300 million people have very little opportunity to speak to the President of the United States

Palast to Bivins: Well, Ken Lay who was a Pioneer had direct access to the President as a member of the transition team advising the Governor on energy matters including those issues in California which made Enron a very profitable corporation this year so he’s had direct access as a Pioneer?

BIVINS: And so you wouldn’t have direct access if you had spent 2 years of your life working hard to get this guy elected President raising hundreds of thousands of dollars… “you dance with them what brung ya”

[Palast flying over Houston chemical plants, traffic and smog, playing Hendrix …]
This is the model for Bush’s America – for Bush’s planet – It’s all in Cheney’s energy announcement – another Pioneer payday.

END OF TRANSCRIPT

Award-winning reporter Palast writes Inside Corporate America for the London Observer. To read other Palast reports, to contact the author or to subscribe to his column, go to GregPalast.Com