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Energy bill a special-interests triumph

Page 2 of 9 -- In other instances, entire industries spent tens of millions of dollars to leverage billions in government funding and deregulation.

The nuclear industry, which spent some $71,405,955 lobbying Capitol Hill, would get $7.37 billion in tax breaks and projects, including federal funds to construct a $1 billion nuclear plant in Idaho. The plant, which would be the first nuclear plant commissioned in decades, would also benefit the hydrogen fuels industry, because the nuclear facility is intended to create hydrogen fuels.

Several large power companies, which spent tens of millions lobbying, won a historic deregulation of their industry that would strip away controls dating from the Depression on how they spend their money and allow them to become conglomerates -- with little recourse for ratepayers if the companies' speculative investments go sour.

Bush's biggest supporters would profit handsomely from the bill. Sixty of Bush's 400 Pioneers and Rangers -- those who have committed to raising at least $100,000 and $200,000, respectively, for the Bush-Cheney reelection effort -- would benefit from the tax breaks, subsidies, and deregulation in the bill, according to an estimate by the Sierra Club.

Massey Energy of West Virginia -- whose director, James H. "Buck" Harless, is a major Bush fund-raiser --would get hundreds of millions of dollars in loan guarantees for a coal gasification plant. Harless served on President Bush's energy transition team, a precursor to Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force, which developed the critical blueprint for the energy package on Capitol Hill.

"The problem is that this has just turned into more of a special interests bill," said Charlie Coon, an energy specialist with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "The bottom line is, it's not going to provide the power that's needed for the economy so people can turn on their lights. It's such a farce."

Behind closed doors

The construction of the bill reflects the way business is done in Washington in 2004: With Republicans enjoying control of both chambers of Congress, plus the White House, GOP leaders in the House craft giant bills behind closed doors, freezing out the minority party and squelching dissent from moderate Republicans and lobbyists whose agendas are unsympathetic to the GOP's goals, according to interviews with members of both parties and former House members.

And while other bills have included their share of earmarked projects or handouts to various industries or interest groups, the energy bill is considered by consumer and environmental groups to be one of the most extreme examples of excessive corporate giveaways.

"What's really amazing is how a combination of energy industry, oil and gas industry, utility industry guys, coal industry guys, through a whole host of policy decisions -- through the Environmental Protection Agency or the energy bill -- literally got billions of dollars in payback for millions of dollars" in contributions and lobbying expenses, said Mark Longabaugh, senior vice president for publicaffairs for the League of ConservationVoters.   Continued...

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