Bush, Cheney and the Energy Tsars

In a way, the tragic events of 9/11 played right into the Administration’s hand.

Although Bush’s presidency was only in its seventh month, he was something of a lame duck when the twin towers fell. He had no clear mandate from the American people. In November, he’d lost the popular vote, and had only garnered enough electoral votes to claim victory by convincing the Supreme Court to accept the results of a questionable Florida election and vote count. The majority of American voters had not voted for him, and a sizable number thought he’d stolen the presidency.

All of that changed on September 11th. Since then, he has used the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq to give an air of legitimacy to his administration. No longer Bush-the-unelected or Bush-the-court appointed, he has convinced many of us that he’s Bush-the-heroic-wartime-president, who’s protecting us from the forces of chaos.

His administration has become so identified with our current warrior stance that we may have forgotten what his presidency had been like in the early months, when we’d been a nation at peace. We may have forgotten a few minor details, like his handling of the California energy crisis.

The artificial electricity crisis in California, engineered primarily by Enron, had actually begun a year earlier, during the waning days of the Clinton administration. Until Bush took office, however, the crisis had been somewhat manageable. Prices were rising and supply was diminishing, but there was not the need for the wholesale power blackouts that defined life in California during Bush’s first year in office, and the state’s utility companies were not yet face-to-face with bankruptcy.

It almost seems as if Enron and friends were waiting for Bush to be sworn-in before they pounced.

Although Bush now attempts to distance himself from his involvement with Enron, the facts prove that the president’s relationship with Enron, and other players in California’s energy woes, goes back to the days before he became governor of Texas. According to the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity, Enron and its employees gave more than anyone else to Bush’s two campaigns for governor, his unsuccessful House campaign in 1978 and his run for the White House.

Kenneth Lay, Enron’s ex-CEO, raised more than $100,000 for Bush’s presidential bid, and was a member of the president’s energy transition team in the early days of the administration. “I clearly think Ken Lay and the Enron Corp. has President Bush’s ear on energy matters,” Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2001. “They had his ear when he was governor. It’s no surprise that Bush’s policies mirror those of Enron.”

Vice President Cheney also brought to office a history with Enron. A Halliburton subsidiary, Brown & Root, helped build Houston’s Enron field under Cheney’s leadership, and he benefited from $113,800 in contributions that the company and its employees gave to the Bush/Cheney campaign, as well as from the $250,000 that Enron contributed to the Republican National Convention host committee.

It’s a certainty that Enron thought that they would have an advantage with the new administration. According to an Enron memo, after Cheney took charge of the National Energy Policy Development Group, he met with Ken Lay in April 2001 and was given a three page “wish list.” An analysis of this memo, ordered by Representative Henry Waxman, concluded that Cheney’s group adopted all or significant portions of most of the “recommendations”

When Enron and friends began jacking-up the price on electricity for California, from $12 per megawatt hour in 1998 to $250 per megawatt hour in February 2001, Bush and Cheney united behind Enron and refused to come to the Golden State’s aid. According to Cheney, price caps were out of the question, and would only be “short-term political relief for the politicians.”

Soon after uttering that remark, however, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission imposed price caps and the situation in California immediately began improving. Unfortunately, California ratepayers will be paying for this debacle for years, if not decades, to come.

In 2002, Cheney refused to disclose details of his dealings with Enron to Congress, which prompted former White House counsel John Dean to tell The Nation, “Cheney says he is refusing to provide information to the Congress as a matter of principle. He told the Today show that he wants to ‘protect the ability of the President and the Vice President to get unvarnished information advice from any source we want.’ That sounds all too familiar to me. I worked for Richard Nixon.”

2004 by AlternativeApproaches.com

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Christine Hall

Christine Hall is a journalist and writer who lives near Winston-Salem, NC.

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