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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).
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.