Dim bulbs in the White House

IT’S NOT JUST THOSE wacky tree-huggers and Dubya-haters who are howling that the Bush/Cheney energy “plan” is, in a word, stupid. Experts agree.

A report from five Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories contradicts repeated Cheney/Bush (er, Bush/ Cheney) assertions that we need a new plant every week until the ionosphere is destroyed and must drill every square inch of the planet’s surface, all to meet America’s insatiable need for power.

That view is flatly wrong. The DOE labs’ report, which was released just before Bush took office and patently ignored until The New York Times put it on the front page last week, found that “an efficiency program, emphasizing research and incentives to adopt new technologies, could reduce the growth in electricity demand between 20 and 47 percent.” When Cheney announced this month that Dubya’s energy buddies should be handed a generous portion of the Federal Reserve, he somehow failed to mention the contradictory research.

That’s because Cheney doesn’t want efficiency. He wants, first, more production, and second, more energy infrastructure (e.g., pipelines)—in other words, huge investments in old, inefficient, unsustainable, polluting industries. So he didn’t mention a number of salient, and well-documented, facts: like that the problems this summer in California and the western energy grid are problems of distribution and pricing, not production. Or that new drilling will do nothing to alleviate that crisis. Or that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—only one of several environmentally delicate Bushite targets—would only supply six months’ worth of crude oil, stretched out over a 30-year period. Or that said crude oil can’t be refined fast enough these days, not due to pesky environmental laws, but because for 20 years we’ve adapted to a gasoline oversupply; indeed, in 1999 gasoline prices were the lowest in U.S. history.

Most of all, Cheney and his boosters are careful to avoid acknowledging that proven new technologies for reducing consumption already exist—and that newer inventions, the kind we won’t see because Bush wants to cut alternative energy research and development funding by half, could save even more. The federal government itself, the country’s largest energy consumer with some 500,000 buildings, could reduce its own energy consumption by 20 percent with a few simple efficiency measures.

Such technologies, employed today, really could help California and the West right now. And restoring (or better yet, dramatically expanding) research and development funding, a subsidy given to countless other industries, could do far more to help five or ten years down the road than more drilling, new pipelines, and eviscerated environmental protections—the same sort of deregulatory mindset that put California into its mess to start with.

But that’s the Bush agenda. To achieve it, his oil-soaked clique is engaging in rank opportunism, using California’s misery to set its campaign patrons up for decades to come.


It’s not as though those patrons aren’t already rolling in money—big money—from this crisis. Three separate Houston companies are among the lucky few cashing in on the California crisis: Dynergy, which sells power on the spot market and had a 100 percent increase in profit during 2000’s fourth quarter; Reliant Energy, which owns five power plants in California; and Enron Corp., which sells a huge amount of energy to California. Enron’s CEO, Kenneth Lay, sat on Bush’s energy transition team and attended Bush’s January economic summit. All gave generously to Dubya’s campaign; Lay alone funneled an estimated $1.7 million into the effort.

Lay has already made it back, and then some. To wit: Californians paid $7 billion in energy bills in 1999; in 2001, with a 5 percent increase in demand, they will pay an estimated $70 billion. Washington and other Western states are next for that sort of treatment, with no end in sight. But the inevitable economic and human damage that will result isn’t concerning the Cheney/Bush team. Instead, their policy experts are up nights creating ways to make even more money for oil, gas, coal, and nuclear power concerns far into the future. California and its residents are irrelevant, or worse, collateral damage.

This sort of misrepresentation of what’s really at stake is emerging as the Bush style. “Misunderstandings” also run rampant. Cabinet members or aides plant an idea—say, that Dubya will do something on global warming, or that we won’t export military technology and arms to the butchers of Beijing. The public impression sticks long after the White House, which never had the least intention of supporting such a policy, backtracks, obfuscates, and clarifies the “confusion” with the opposite (and, for its corporate backers, invariably more profitable) position.

Where Clinton’s schtick was empathy, Bush’s is stupidity. Both mask the craven greed of the one-party corporate state, and the 20-year degeneration of the presidency into a single-minded agent of corporate bidding. Unless an outraged public (us) can do something to surgically insert an artificial spine into the lukewarm congressional corpse of the Democratic Party, Bush and his handlers stand to cause enormous harm while we snigger at his syntax. We’d better get busy, too.