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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Enron and the Energy Plan

Air Date: Week of

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Democratic Representative Henry Waxman from California says Enron had easy access to the White House Energy Task Force and it shows. According to Representative Waxman, the Bush admistration’s National Energy Plan advances 17 policies Enron advocated. Host Steve Curwood talks to Representative Waxman about his report on this issue.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. One of the top items on the legislative agenda for the Bush administration for this session of Congress is its energy bill, but that legislation may become a flashpoint in the unfolding Enron scandal. The bill was developed after Vice President Dick Cheney met repeatedly behind closed doors with the leadership of Enron and others. The White House has declined repeated requests from the General Accounting Office to provide records of those meetings. Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, from California. He says many policies in the administration's energy bill are identical to positions that Enron had advocated in congressional testimony and in other public statements.

WAXMAN: In the energy proposal by the Bush Administration, we found 17 provisions that Enron had lobbied for. They wanted provisions to promote expansion of natural gas pipelines which Enron both owns and leases for natural gas trading business. They wanted support for Enron to expand drilling for natural gas and oil, including provisions to reduce royalties on drilling on public lands and weaken environmental protections. They wanted tax breaks, worth $2.4 billion, to encourage deregulation of the electricity utility industry, which is, of course, this long-time Enron goal. And they had provisions to facilitate the re-licensing of hydro-electric facilities, which would benefit Enron's subsidiary, Portland General, the owner of several hydro-electric facilities.

CURWOOD: White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has said what was put in the president's energy plan was put in to help address an energy shortage in America, and not at the request of any one company or any one person. It was done because, quote, it's the right policy for the country. There must have been plenty of other companies who were pleased when the task force energy plan came out. How good is this plan for business? How good is it for consumers?

WAXMAN: I'm sure that some of the provisions that we know Enron wanted would have benefited other energy producers as well, but when you look at the cumulative contributions from the coal, oil, gas, nuclear and electric utility industries, they gave almost $70 million in campaign contributions in the 2000 election cycle. The same industries received almost $34 billion in tax breaks and subsidies in HR-4, which was the Republican sponsored bill that passed the House. So, if you look at campaign contributions as a form of investment in the legislative process, the rate of return on this investment is an astounding 47,400 percent.

CURWOOD: The White House spokesman, Mr. Fleischer, has also said that there are plenty of points in the White House energy plan that Enron would not have supported Congress in. He points, for instance, to the fact that the Bush Administration does not include carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas, in its pollution strategy, while Enron would have wanted to trade carbon credits internationally. How do you respond to some of his rebuttals?

WAXMAN: Well, I think we ought to be able to see what they ask for. Maybe they didn't like that provision, maybe they did like that provision. We don't know what they asked for, because they're withholding that information.

CURWOOD: But you said, ìWe don't know what Enron wanted in terms of this,î but you yourself went to the public record and other testimony. It's pretty clear that Enron did want to have carbon trading, and the White House said no. So Enron clearly didn't get everything that it was looking for in this task force.

WAXMAN: Well, maybe that's right, maybe that's right, but I don't know all the facts. The Energy Task Force operated secretly, and the General Accounting Office, at our request, asked the vice president to make available to it all of the workings of that task force. But the vice president said no, he won't make any of it available to the GAO. You have to wonder, why is he taking that position? It seems to me he's either taking that position because he's trying to establish the precedent that they can operate in this administration secretly, without any accountability, without any transparency, without the Congress of the United States being able to exercise its oversight responsibilities into their actions. If that's the case, I think they have a weak argument, and, if they go to court, which, I expect, is likely to happen, because I think the GAO is going to be forced to file a lawsuit, to get the records and information about the Energy Task force, I don't think they'll prevail.

The other reason that you would think they're so secretive about all this is that they have something to hide. Now, I don't know whether they do or not, but when people go out of their way not to make routine information available to an organization like the General Accounting Office, you have to wonder what's going on.

CURWOOD: Congressman Henry Waxman is a Democrat from California. He sits on the House Energy Committee and is the ranking minority member of the Committee on Government and Reform. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, Representative Waxman.

WAXMAN: Thank you for your interest.



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