Bush and Big Oil threaten world environment
Bush and Big Oil threaten world environment
BY NORM DIXON
An international gathering of scientists in Shanghai mid-January presented a report revealing that global warming caused by the emission of greenhouse gases could result in the atmosphere's temperature rising by almost 6°C by 2100. Sea levels could also rise 88cm. The consequences include millions made homeless in low-lying regions and islands, famine and insect plagues.
Klaus Topfer, head of the United Nations Environment Program, said that the report “should ring alarm bells in every national capital”. In Washington, however, the only bells that the new Bush administration will pay attention to are those that signal the opening of trading on the stock exchange. On September 29 last year, George Bush junior made the peculiar claim, during a major speech on energy policy, that increasing internet usage in the US meant that more coal-fired power stations needed to be constructed. Bush's claim was based on research provided by the Greening Earth Society (GES), a think tank that argues that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a warming planet are not a worry but are beneficial. The GES is a front group for the Western Fuels Association, a group of seven US coal-burning power generation corporations. The WFA's chief executive also happens to be president of the GES. The WFA advocates increased coal exploration, mining and burning, and opposes attempts to reach an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases Coal burning is a primary source of greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for 36% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the US. The US is the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases. Most major oil companies have extensive investments in coal and gas production as well. Bush has said he opposes the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because it is “unfair” to the US. Bush's wealth derives from direct participation in the oil industry — in Texas and in the Middle East — and from generous bailouts by oil-soaked cronies of the extended Bush family (whose wealth is primarily oil-derived). Texas, the state that Bush was governor of from 1995 is the base of much of the US oil industry. Texas leads the US in greenhouse gas emissions and has the worst air pollution. Texas ranks number one in the US in the amount of carcinogens pumped into the air and water; number one in the number of hazardous waste incinerators; number one in mercury emissions from industry; and more than 7000km of its rivers are unsafe for drinking, fishing, boating or rafting. Peter Altman, an environmentalist in Austin, Texas, told the BBC on January 22 that, as governor of Texas, Bush “repeatedly sided with big business and industry that wants to pollute more and have fewer laws to comply with. He advocated a voluntary approach to an air pollution problem that was deadly serious. He [told] polluters, you can clean up if you want to, we're not going to make you”. Altman warned foreign delegates who will attend future international negotiations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that “in reality they are negotiating with Exxon-Mobil, which has written Bush's environment laws in the past, and which is a company that now has strong ties to a Bush administration”. Bush will be even more intransigent in refusing to meet Washington's obligations under the Kyoto protocol than his predecessor. Appointments Bush's appointments to the key posts that oversee the US government's environment policy confirm that the approach he followed in Texas will now apply nationally and internationally. Washington is set to put the profits of the big oil and coal corporations ahead of the protection of the world's environment from the impact of fossil-fuel generated greenhouse gas emissions. Christine Whitman is Bush's choice for head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As governor of New Jersey (NJ), the polluted state that is home to some of the world's largest oil refineries, Whitman dismantled 40 years of state environment policies, programs and enforcement. She abolished the environmental prosecutor's office. There was an 80% drop in the amount collected from fines for breaches of environmental rules. One-third of fines for pollution violations go uncollected. Whitman introduced rules that allowed substantial increases in pollutants discharged into NJ's waterways. The federal EPA — the body that Whitman now heads — intervened to stop their adoption. NJ has the highest percentage of waterways impaired by pollution (85%) in the US. Whitman has stated that the thinning ozone layer and global warming are not serious problems (her statement also indicated she does not understand that they are separate problems). “It's not as clear, the cause and effect [of global warming], as we would like it to be”, she said. Interior secretary Gale Norton's department is responsible for looking after public land and national parks, and protecting endangered species. Norton earned her political stripes as a lawyer activist for the “property rights” or “wise use” movement. According to property rights advocates, the right of property owners to “enjoy” land and resources takes priority over that of society to protect the environment. They argue that developers and industrialists should be compensated by governments when environmental laws and regulations limit profits. Norton continued to work for James Watt, the head of her law firm, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, when he became President Ronald Reagan's interior secretary. Watt famously declared: “We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber.” In a 1989 Harvard law journal, Norton argued that property owners had the “right to pollute”. As Colorado attorney general between 1991 and 1999, she promoted environmental regulations based on voluntary compliance for industry and sided with property developers against affected communities. In 1998 Norton became co-chairperson of the “free-market environmentalist” Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates (CREA), an alliance of lobbyists for the oil, automobile and mining corporations. In 1999, she joined the Bush campaign to “advise” it on “environmental policy” (another member of the team advising Bush was David Koch, whose Koch Industries was last year fined US$35 million for oil pollution in six US states). Arctic push Norton, along with Bush junior, is a passionate supporter of opening up the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil drilling. The refuge will be administered by Norton's department. It may be no coincidence that Norton's Republican environment front group CREA was co-chaired by senior BP lobbyist Grover Norquist. BP and Phillips Petroleum are pushing hard for the ANWR to be opened for drilling. BP, Phillips and other oil companies believe billions of barrels of oil may lie beneath the ANWR. BP and Phillips dominate the Alaskan oil industry and it is feared that the ANWR will end up like parts of Alaska that have been left to the companies' mercy. Thirty years ago, oil production began at Prudhoe Bay and it was thought that development would restricted to a relatively small area around the main well. Today, oil operations have spread more than 90km either side of the first well. Nineteen oil fields cover around 2600km2. There are 1770km of pipeline and 9000 hectares of gravel-filled wetlands. The industrial network is so large its lights are able to seen by astronauts aboard the space shuttle. Alaska's oil operations disgorge 56,427 tonnes of nitrogen oxides each year, more than twice the amount emitted by Washington, DC. The Bush administration's support for drilling the Arctic will bring Norton into conflict with the indigenous Gwich'in Athabascan people. It won't be the first time Norton has attacked the land rights of indigenous people. When she worked for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, she was paid $60,000 by the Alaska state parliament to prepare a case against the Department of the Interior to prevent it stepping in to protect indigenous Alaskans' fishing rights after the state government refused to do so. While Colorado attorney general, Norton wrapped herself in the banner of the traditional cause of US reactionaries — “states' rights” — to oppose indigenous tribes' exercise of land and cultural rights, including the right to levy taxes on oil and gas companies operating on their land. She did not restrict her opposition to Colorado, but filed cases against indigenous people's land rights in at least eight other US states. Norton's mentors at the Mountain States Legal Foundation, joined the sweeping attack. As federal interior secretary Norton will be in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the agency that administers Native American lands and works with indigenous people's governing bodies on the reservations. “We are opposed to this woman being our next secretary of the interior. Efforts by the Bush administration to open the [ANWR] to oil drilling is an act of discrimination. It is an issue of human rights versus oil”, said Sarah James from the Alaska Council of the Indigenous Environmental Network and a member of the Gwich'in tribe. Energy secretary Spencer Abraham, a former staffer to Dan Quayle, Bush senior's vice president, was recycled after his recent attempt to be reelected as a senator from Michigan failed. In the Senate, Abraham fought against fuel efficiency regulations for motor vehicles, renewable energy research and in favour of drilling the ANWR. His stands earned him $450,000 in donations from the energy and mining corporations for his reelection campaign. Commerce secretary Don Evans, CEO of the Tom Brown oil company in Texas, organised donations worth US$100 million for the Bush campaign, mainly from other oil magnates. He is responsible for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Greenhouse gas emissions and oil spills may not be high on Evans' agenda. Drilling for oil off-shore and in the Arctic will be. Other Bush administration figures are unlikely to be sympathetic to environmental concerns. Bush's vice-president, Dick Cheney is the multimillionaire CEO of Halliburton, a Texas construction and engineering outfit that services oil companies and the US military. Cheney's fortune skyrocketed to around US$50 million following the 1991 US war against Iraq. As George Bush senior's defence secretary, Cheney (ably supported by then chief of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, now Bush junior's secretary of state, Colin Powell) — oversaw that war to maintain US imperialism's control over the region's oil supplies. Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill is the multimillionaire CEO of Alcoa, the electricity-guzzling aluminium company that has interests in around 60 countries. Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security advisor, is on the board of the Chevron oil company, a corporation notorious for its collusion with Nigerian military in massive human rights abuses. She recently had the honour of having an oil tanker named after her.