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A Polluting Energy Secretary?
I n the bizarre world that President Bush lives in, it pays—literally—to be a miserable failure, a criminal, and a corporate con artist. Those are just some of the characteristics of the men and women who were tapped recently to fill the vacancies in Bush’s second-term cabinet.
But one of the president’s most outrageous decisions (besides naming Alberto Gonzales, the person who concocted a legal case for torturing foreign prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, as attorney general) has got to be choosing 66-year-old Sam Bodman to serve as secretary of energy. Bodman ran a Texas-based chemical company that was one of the top five worst polluters.
It’s not just a few clouds of smoke that got Bodman’s old company, the Boston-based Cabot Corporation, those accolades. Cabot is the world’s largest producer of industrial carbon black, a byproduct of the oil refinery process. It was 54,000 tons of toxic emissions that his company’s refineries released into the air in Texas in 1997 alone that made Cabot the fourth largest source of toxic emissions in Texas.
In 2000, the year Bodman left Cabot to join the Bush administration as deputy commerce secretary, Cabot accounted for 60,000 of the more than half-a-million tons of toxic emissions released into the Texas air, according to a report by the Texas State Summary of Emissions.
A loophole created in the 1972 Texas Clean Air Act exempted or “grandfathered” industrial plants built before 1971 from stricter pollution control rules. But in the mid-1990s companies such as Cabot were supposed to curb the pollution coming from their refineries. Environmentalists demanded that then Governor Bush rein in the polluters and close the so-called grandfather loophole as the air in Texas got worse.
Instead, in 1997 Bush asked two oil company executives to outline a voluntary program that allowed the grandfathered polluters to decide on their own exactly how much to cut the pollution at their plants. The oil execs summoned a meeting of two dozen industry reps at Exxon’s offices in Houston and presented them with the program.
In a memo obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, one executive wrote, “Clearly the insiders from oil and gas believe that the Governor’s office will ‘persuade’ the [Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission] to accept what program is developed between the industry group and the Governor’s Office.”
they did. And two years later this joke of a program was enacted
into law by a bill written by the general counsel for the Texas
Chemical Council who also lobbies for energy and utility companies.
The bill was denounced by newspapers across the state,” according
to a March 5, 2000 report in the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
According to people familiar with the legislation, Sam Bodman was part of the original working group that drafted legislation that Gov. Bush signed into law, basically permitting Cabot and other companies to continue to emit the same levels—and in some cases more—toxic emissions as they had been years earlier without so much as a slap-on-the-wrist .
Bodman’s shoddy environmental record aside, he may also be complicit in one of Africa’s deadliest wars. In October 2002, Bodman’s former company came under fire when a United Nations panel of experts report accused the company, along with several other U.S. corporations, of helping to fuel the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by purchasing coltan during the conflict and illegally plundering the country’s vast natural resources.
Cabot has publicly denied these allegations, but a report by the Belgian Senate states that Eagle Wings Resources International had a long-term contract to supply Cabot with coltan, which it too purchased from the Congo during the war. Eagle Wings was also identified in the UN report as contributing to the war.
In response, the U.S.-based environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the UK-based human rights group Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) filed a complaint with the U.S. State Department last August against Cabot and several other western corporations claiming they violated the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) “Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,” a set of international standards for responsible corporate behavior.
The UN panel said in its report that a “Three-year investigation found that sophisticated elite networks of high-level political, military and businesspersons, in collaboration with various rebel groups, intentionally fueled the conflict in order to retain control over the country’s vast natural resources. The panel implicated many Western companies for directly or indirectly helping to fuel the war.”
The State Department is the agency in charge of deciding whether U.S. companies breach the OECD guidelines. Despite the allegations included in the UN report and the complaint filed by the two activist groups, the State Department has refused to launch an independent investigation into whether Cabot, under Bodman’s leadership, and the other U.S. companies might have contributed to the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Cabot is the world’s largest coltan refiner. The other U.S. corporations identified in the UN report, Kemet and Vishay, both purchase processed tantalum (the metal extracted from coltan) from Cabot. Under Bodman’s leadership an unknown amount of the coltan Cabot was purchasing could have originated from the DRC. Cabot has stated, “To the best of its knowledge none [of its coltan came] from environmentally sensitive areas in Africa, but it can’t be sure.”
As Energy Secretary, Bodman will be looking out for the energy behemoths he used to commiserate with while he was chair and chief executive of Cabot, Vice President Dick Cheney being one of them. Many of those energy corporations have donated millions to fund President Bush’s inaugural parties. Cheney wants Bodman to reward their pals by making a convincing case for why the president’s controversial energy policy should sail through Congress, the environment be damned.
Jason Leopold is the author of the forthcoming book Off the Record: An Investigative Journalist’s Inside View of Dirty Politics, Corporate Scandal, and a Double Life Exposed (Rowman & Littlefield).
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CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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