WASHINGTON - Today, in a shameful abuse of power, the House of Representatives narrowly approved energy legislation that tries to capitalize on a national tragedy to further enrich big oil companies at the expense of public health. The Republican leadership held a five-minute vote open for nearly 45 minutes in order to squeak out a 212-210 vote in favor of the so-called "Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005" (H.R 3893) sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). Thirteen Republicans and one Independent joined all 196 Democrats present for the vote in opposing the bill.
The bill does nothing to "provide reliable and affordable energy for the American people" as it claims. Instead, it would grant enormous subsidies to energy companies that are already enjoying record-breaking profits, while removing key public health and environmental protections.
"The energy industry and their backers in Congress are exploiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina to further line the pockets of wealthy energy barons," said Earthjustice Legislative Counsel Jim Cox. "The bill does nothing to ease soaring gas prices, while doing everything to roll back clean air safeguards."
The bill seeks to delay existing smog cleanup deadlines until 2015 or beyond. A similar provision was dropped from the final energy bill signed into law by the President in August because it was considered too controversial. More than 150 million Americans now live in areas where smog levels are high enough to cause serious health problems such as asthma.
The bill will also limit the development of clean fuels and as a result, will likely derail the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) upcoming program to clean up pollution from diesel engines before it even gets off the ground. The bill attempts to justify these rollbacks by using the false assumption that public health protections are preventing oil companies from investing in the additional refining capacity that is needed to supply an oil-thirsty nation.
Many of the Act's environmental and public-health rollbacks have absolutely no relation to the recent hurricanes, and no relation to America's gasoline supplies. In other words, they have no relation to the issues cited in an attempt to justify the bill.
All Americans are deeply saddened by the devastation caused by these storms and support efforts to alleviate the suffering in affected regions. Congress's response, however, should not include the gutting of public health and environmental laws just so oil and energy companies can profit.
"Powerful special interests are trying to capitalize on these catastrophic events to push a 'wish-list' of bad proposals," said Cox. "We hope the Senate will recognize this proposal for the industry giveaway that it is, and stand up for public health and environmental protection by voting it down."