Thankfully, No Turkey (of an Energy Bill) this Thanksgiving

by Kiki Kennedy
Reprinted Courtesy of the Sound/Shore Publishing Newspapers, LLC

The Energy Bill that died in the U.S. Senate, days before Thanksgiving, was an enormous turkey of a bill fattened with tax incentives for the corporate energy industry and stuffed with provisions that weakened crucial environmental laws.

The corporate energy industry would have been able to feast on that bill for years.

Luckily, that turkey is gone-for now. The bill's proponents could not muster the votes before the Senate adjourned. However, come January, they plan to serve up this foul fowl again.

Senator John McCain (R-arizona) called this energy bill a "turkey stuffed with taxpayers dollars" and re-titled it the "Leave No Lobbyist Behind Bill." Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said it "consists entirely of subsidies to corporations and rollbacks of environmental protection laws. It is a virtual grab-bag of giveaways to corporate interests."

Conservative estimates place the energy bill's tax breaks to the energy industry at $25 billion; others double that. The Boston Globe described the energy bill as "an example of corporate welfare masquerading as economic policy. It will give money to companies that don't need it, produce precious little new energy, and exacerbate the budget deficit." (Nov. 23, 2003)

Tax breaks to the energy industry are troubling, given our nation's growing deficit and the increasing costs of the conflict in Iraq.

Even more troubling is the environmental harm wreaked across the United States fro MTBE liability limitations, promotion of coastal drilling and the gutting of critical environmental regulations that stop bad energy projects (like Islander East) while ensuring that reasonable energy projects minimize pollution.

Buried deep within this 1700 page tome are several paragraphs that spell potential environmental disaster for any community in the United States dealing with a natural gas pipeline.

(The bill also makes a direct hit on Long Island Sound by codifying into federal law Energy Secretary Abraham's order to energize the Cross-Sound Cable following the blackout; this is transparently political.)

Under Title XIV, Subtitle D, Section 1442, the energy bill would give nearly all power to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the siting and construction of natural gas pipelines. The power to stop a pipeline following FERC approval would be stripped from nearly ALL other state and federal government agencies.

Remember FERC? It consists of five members appointed by the President. Appointees come out of corporate energy industry jobs and, after their service, return to corporate energy industry jobs. What a set up. How often do you think a FERC appointee says "no" to a multibillion dollar energy corporation proposal?

To make matters worse, in their approval process, FERC is NOT statutorily required to place environment concerns ahead of other factors.

Currently, federal environmental laws, like the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), counterbalance the system's inequities: they can stop a pipeline that FERC has approved.

This energy bill would decimate those laws, save, the CZMA. Like a seesaw, power would be heavily tilted to FERC.

Thank goodness for the CZMA! (The CZMA, administered by the Department of Commerce, also stopped Islander East and was what the Nov. 5 hearing addressed.)

But wait -more bad news. Under Title III, Sections 325 and 330, the energy bill cripples the CZMA.

Today, Commerce can determine both how and how log to take to develop its own factual record in a CZMA appeal. The energy bill would severely limit that time, with no provisions for extensions, and even worse, Commerce would be mandated to use only the record created by FERC. Commerce could not consider facts that come to light after FERC's record has closed. The truth would be sacrificed. These irrational limitations only serve the interests of the energy industry, not the environment or the American people.

So what happens with Islander East if these provisions get passed in a 2004 energy bill?

Thankfully, Islander East would NOT automatically get build. We could still hope that the CZMA would keep Islander East stopped (CZMA's crippling would not affect us).

However, we would lose two firewall protections provided by Sections 401 and 404 of the federal Clean Water Act. That means that neither the anticipated denial of a 401 permit by out CT DEP nor a possible denial of a 404 permit by the Army Crop of Engineers could possibly stop Islander East.

Although Islander East worries me if this energy bill passes, I am far more worried about the implications to any community in the United States dealing with an environmentally devastating pipeline. That community would have far less time, less imput, and less environmental laws than we did; they could not hope to win.

Let's be thankful the energy bill died now. And for the sake of America's communities and our environment, let's hope it stays buried.

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