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The Bogus Energy Bill

Rowan Wolf

H.R. 3893 - Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005 provides "security" for the energy industry, but not for us. The bill passed the House on 10/07/05 after the voting period was extended from five minutes to 40 so reluctant Republican's arms could be twisted to vote for the bill. The final vote was 212-210 along a straight party line split, and passed while the House Democrats chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" A contentious passage of "relaxing anti-pollution standards" was dropped to get moderate Republican representatives to vote for the bill (LA Times, 10/08/05).

While H.R. 3893 does not directly undermine air pollution standards, it does undermine the rights of states to set pollution standards. It does this by limiting the formulations of gasoline that are refined. H.R. 3893 is also not the only "energy" bill that moved through the House. Also passed was HRES 481 which opens up support for the construction of new refinery construction:

H. Res. 481 In the House of Representatives, U.S., October 7, 2005.

" Resolved, That upon the adoption of this resolution it shall be in order without intervention of any point of order to consider in the House the bill (H.R. 3893) to expedite the construction of new refining capacity in the United States, to provide reliable and affordable energy for the American people, and for other purposes. The bill shall be considered as read. The amendment in the nature of a substitute recommended by the Committee on Energy and Commerce now printed in the bill, modified by the amendment printed in part A of the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution, shall be considered as adopted. All points of order against the bill, as amended, are waived. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill, as amended, to final passage without intervening motion except: (1) one hour of debate on the bill, as amended, equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce; (2) the amendment in the nature of a substitute printed in part B of the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution, if offered by Representative Stupak of Michigan or his designee, which shall be in order without intervention of any point of order, shall be considered as read, and shall be separately debatable for 40 minutes equally divided and controlled by the proponent and an opponent; and (3) one motion to recommit with or without instructions. "

Providing tax payer support, and reducing safety standards to "help" big oil build new refineries is a huge slap in the face. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon studied the refinery issue because of high fuel prices in Oregon. What he found is that the closing of refineries was part of a plan increase profit margins, and that refinery owners colluded in this plan. You can read his full report from 2001 - The Oil Industry, Gas Supply and Refinery Capacity: More Than Meets the Eye. In that report, Wyden states:

"In the mid-1990s too much refining capacity, not too little, concerned the nation's major oil companies. At that time, the oil and gas industry faced what they termed “excess refining capacity,? a circumstance they viewed as a financial liability that drove down overall profit margins. The industry reduced the total amount of potential supply by closing down more than 50 refineries in the past decade. Since 1995 alone, 24 refinery closings have taken nearly 830,000 barrels of oil per day.

...

Information I have received during my ongoing investigation raises serious concerns that the nation's major oil suppliers have set out in a strategic effort to orchestrate a financial triple play, a coordinated effort that would reduce supply, raise prices at the pump and relax environmental regulations. Unfortunately, in each case, it is the consumer who takes the hit. "

Surprise, surprise. Now, we are told that the heart of our "supply" problem in the United States is that we don't have enough refineries. Puh-lease tell me I am having a bad dream. Nope, it's for real.

Big oil shuts down refineries to drive up prices to increase their profit margin. They manipulate supply to create shortages, and then they claim that environmental restrictions are too high - making construction of new refinery capacity prohibitively expensive. Along comes a nasty hurricane season and they (and their elected guardians) are ready to pounce. Let's "facilitate" the building of new refineries. So the oil companies get new refineries, with fewer regulations, and control of the blends they need to supply, with emergency support from the federal government.

And where pray tell might they locate these new refineries? On CLOSED MILITARY BASES. Now this is Huge from an environmental standard because there has been ongoing pressure on military bases to protect the environment. Many such bases are located on or near sensitive habitats as well as near cities and towns. The level of toxic materials and destructive activities at those bases has placed the military in the position of special regulation. NOW we are going to "give" those bases to the oil companies to build highly toxic refineries, AND reduce the environmental controls refineries have to follow.

This is a slap in the face no matter how you look at it. To add insult to injury, this legislation isn't going to do a damn thing to lower the cost of fuel, heating oil, or natural gas. Of course, neither does opening public lands to exploration and drilling. There are only four things that I know of that might stabilize or reduce consumer costs:

1. Conserve - reduce demand which increases the margin between supply and demand.

2. Switch to renewable energy sources

3. Invest in mass transit

4. Re-localize economies (bringing production closer to consumption)

All of these reduce energy use (and waste) and have the additional benefit of being more environmentally "friendly," and less damaging to an already bad global warming situation. [Aside: ethanol is not an acceptable substitute as it requires oil at every point of production from planting, to fertilizer, to harvesting, to production to delivery.]

President Bush has called for us to "conserve" in this emergency. I can guarantee you that his calls to conserve are not aimed at bringing down costs, but in averting shortages. People may get angry at high prices, but they will panic if there is no gas available. Of course, the story for those who are poor or living near the margin are going to be hurt very badly, but from the hegemonic perspective they don't vote or contribute to political campaigns. Plus, the corporate media will likely cooperate in keeping an "invisible" population invisible.

I am with the Democrats on this one. "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

Rowan Wolf is a columnist for Project for the Old American Century,  
and the editor of Radical Noesis and Uncommon Thought Journal . 
Her email is [email protected]
 

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