As would be expected in the Age of Bush, an energy bill that will affect all Americans for decades to come, and cost us hundreds of billions of dollars, is being hashed out in secret. It's a direct off-shoot of those notorious secret meetings held by Vice President Dick Cheney, about which he refuses to disclose anything, despite a string of court orders. A final Congressional vote may come this week.
For New Englanders, it will mean critical shortages of natural gas within the very near future, plus soaring oil prices and escalating danger from nuclear power plants -Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim, Seabrook and the two Millstone reactors still operating in Connecticut.
The "Senator from Big Nuke"---Pete Domenici of New Mexico---is working with the "Rep. from Big Oil"---W.J. "Billy" Tauzin of Louisiana---to cook up legislation that will mean billions in benefits to their big campaign donors and a nightmare of environmental, health and social costs to the rest of us, for generations to come.
These two fossil-nuke flunkies have taken control of the Senate-House conference committee, giving them a free hand to concoct a gargantuan handout of taxpayer money and environmental resources to their principle campaign contributors.
Domenici is working up the nuclear power subsidies. His original plan was for at least $8.5 billion in guaranteed loans for new reactor construction. He's not saying right now whether he's upped the ante even further. But the bill does extend the Price-Anderson liability shield, letting reactor builders escape financial responsibility for a catastrophic meltdown. It would hand the industry another $2 billion for "research and development," plus another $865 million for failed reprocessing technologies and yet another $1.1 billion for a worthless Advanced Hydrogen Reactor Co-generation Project.
The bill also weakens whistle-blower protections as well as prohibitions against exporting radioactive materials, which could be made into bombs.
The bill repeals the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA), a New Deal mainstay that has prevented even more Enron-style disasters. Repeal would guarantee them.
The bill would give power of eminent domain to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), eliminating state and local control over power-line construction.
It would also alter the FERC's "just and reasonable" rate setting guideline, letting transmission line owners gouge consumers still further.
For the oil and gas barons, the list of goodies is almost endless from massive subsidies tax breaks and rebates to opening vast tracts of scenic and ecologically vital areas for exploitation and ruin. There are exemptions from the Safe Water Drinking Act and the Clean Water Act. There are no substantial gains for auto fuel efficiency.
There is also no Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), the widely popular requirement that a percentage of the nation's electricity be generated with wind or solar power. And there are no concessions for escalating carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming.
Taken as a whole, the Cheney-Bush energy bill is a prescription for economic and ecological catastrophe. Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont has put forward a reasonable alternative in his Electric Reliability Security Act.
But Bush wants legislation that will virtually guarantee future blackouts, nuclear meltdowns, skyrocketing fossil fuel prices and catastrophic ecological disease.
The tragedy is that wind power is now cheaper, safer, cleaner and more reliable than anything offered in this bill. There are some production tax credits for the wind industry. But they pale in comparison to what a sane energy plan would provide. Aid to solar power is virtually non-existent. Conservation and efficiency are, in the Age of Bush, considered too un-manly to even discuss.
In short, this is the energy plan from Hell. Dick Cheney and the coal/oil/nuke/gas industries that own him drafted it in secret. It deserves to die a speedy death. Call your Senators and Representatives today. Or you, your children and your children's children will pay a horrific price.
Harvey Wasserman, senior editor of www.freepress.org, is author of HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, THE LAST ENERGY WAR, and co-author (with Bob Fitrakis) of GEORGE W. BUSH VERSUS THE SUPERPOWER OF PEACE. Wasserman was a co-founder of the legendary Clamshell Alliance that organized the first mass protests against nuclear power at the site of the proposed Seabrook Station in the 1970ís.
The Columbus Free Press