August 19, 2000
The Bush Family "Oiligarchy"
Part Three: Politics & Oil -- The Sequel
By Sam Parry
The oil money connections that had served George W. Bush so well in private life would, like his father before him, continue to serve George W. very well in political life. And, like his father before him, George W. would reward his oilmen benefactors once in office.
During his nearly six years in the governor’s mansion, George W. has presided over what widely regarded as the most polluted state in the country. It ranks first in the amount of cancer-causing chemicals pumped annually into the air and water, first in the number of hazardous-waste incinerators, first in the total toxic releases to the environment, and first in carbon dioxide and mercury emissions from industry. [See “The Polluters’ President,” by Ken Silverstein, Sierra Magazine, Nov/Dec 1999.]
The air quality is arguably the darkest blot on Texas’s environmental record. A majority of Texans live in areas that either flunk federal ozone standards or are in danger of flunking, a shocking statistic in a state of nearly 20 million people. Houston, the nation's oil- and petrochemical-industry headquarters, has been called an ecological disaster zone. Chemical spills slick its coastal waters and its air quality has just earned the dubious honor of being the most polluted in the country, eclipsing Los Angeles last year.
Water quality in Texas isn’t any better. More than 4,400 miles of Texas rivers, roughly one-third of Texas’s waterways, don’t meet basic federal standards set for recreational and other uses. They are unswimmable, unfishable, and, for the most part, undrinkable.
Despite this abysmal record, the state has cut water-testing programs to the bare bones. Between 1985 and 1997, the number of stations monitoring for pesticides in Texas waterways fell from 27 to two. The lack of attention given to these problems is further evidenced by the fact that the state of Texas ranks 49th in spending on environmental clean up. [Sierra Magazine, Nov/Dec 1999]
While missing in action on environmental protection, Gov. Bush jumped into the trenches when the oil industry was threatened. In 1999, when international oil prices collapsed, Gov. Bush pushed for and won a $45 million tax break for the state's oil-and-natural-gas producers. [AP, April 3, 2000]
To get a sense of Gov. Bush’s priorities, it is worth examining an initiative he promoted that he now widely cites as a successful environmental policy reform. In the Texas Clean Air Act of 1971, 828 industrial plants enjoyed a grandfather loophole that allowed them to operate without obtaining a permit. In 1997, Gov. Bush announced a plan to “close the loophole” for these factories. But the plan was strictly voluntary and carried no penalties for industries that didn’t seek a permit.
Such a plan could have been written by the industries themselves. And as it turned out, it was. In confidential memos obtained by the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition (SEED) under the state's Freedom of Information Act, it was shown that Gov. Bush’s administration worked closely with the companies as they were crafting the proposal. [Sierra Magazine, Nov/Dec 1999]
Gov. Bush also found appointees who pleased the oil industry when he was filling seats on the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), the Texas equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency. His first choice, Barry McBee, came from a Dallas law firm where he served as an oil specialist. McBee was former deputy commissioner at the Texas Department of Agriculture where he led a drive to gut "right to know" laws that protected farmworkers from unannounced aerial pesticide spraying.
Gov. Bush’s second choice, Robert Huston, was even more fondly thought of by the oil industry. Huston came from the industry consulting firm Espey, Huston & Associates, whose clients included Exxon, Chevron and Shell. Another of Gov. Bush's appointees to the TNRCC was Ralph Marquez, former vice chair of the Texas Chemical Council's environmental committee and a 30-year veteran of Monsanto. [Sierra Magazine, Nov/Dec 1999]
It is likely that a President George W. Bush would appoint people from this same mold to serve in environmental and industry oversight positions. For one, McBee is regarded as a leading candidate to head the EPA.
As has been widely reported, Bush has expressed a "kinship" with those in the oil industry. Craig McDonald, Director of Texans for Public Justice, a campaign finance group, summed up the bond between Bush and the oil industry this way: "He's been friendly to that sector, policy-wise, and they've been good to him in return. He rewarded them with tax breaks when they cried that they weren't making enough money." [AP, April 3, 2000]
This affinity between Bush and the oil industry and how it might affect a potential Bush presidency has raised alarm bells within the environmental community. At a time when scientists warn of the dire environmental consequences caused by global warming, which in turn is caused by burning oil and other fossil fuels at high rates, environmentalists fear that a George W. Bush White House, closely aligned with the oil industry, would ignore these scientific warnings.
Among other controversial energy topics on which Bush sides with the oil industry are suspending 4.3 cents-per-gallon of the federal gasoline tax, a move that could lead to more gasoline use. He also favored opening up Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness to oil drilling. These initiatives would have strong chances of passage with Bush in the White House and Congress under the leadership of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
George W.’s support for the Alaskan oil ventures is underscored by the men he chose to serve as his Alaska state campaign co-chairmen, Bob Malone and Bill Allen. From 1995-2000, Malone served as president, chief executive and chief operating officer of the Alyeska Pipeline Services Co., a consortium owned by major oil companies active in the North Slope of Alaska.
Alyeska Pipeline manages the 800-mile Alaskan pipeline, which delivers more than 20% of America’s domestic oil production. Before joining Alyeska, Malone served as president of BP Amoco’s Pipelines (Alaska) Inc. [See The Public I, Feb. 28, 2000, www.public-i.org/story_16_022800.htm .]
The other Bush co-chair in Alaska, Bill Allen, is the chairman of VECO Corp., which was formed to support offshore oil production in Alaska. VECO now has 4,000 employees and has offices in Alaska, Colorado, Washington State, India, Cyprus and Houston. [See http://www.veco.com/CorpwebSite/locations/locations.html .]