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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 02:41 GMT 03:41 UK
Bush energy plan: Policy or payback?
By Greg Palast in Houston
A new power plant every week for 20 years, new nukes, drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge - is this an energy policy, or a payback for President Bush's big campaign contributors?
From the moment George W Bush announced he was running for president, $50m came in from Texas-based energy companies.
But they are hundreds of millions of dollars better off from his time as governor of Texas - and because of decisions taken in the first months of his presidency.
When it comes to pollution, Texas is champ, the number one state in emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals.
A visit to the city of Houston is enough to confirm that status.
A 24 km (15 mile) wide forest of smokestacks stands on the edge of Houston, a place famous for pumping out pollution, profits and the political donations which put George Bush into the White House.
There a mile long cloud of black smoke, with flames 60 metres (200 ft) high erupts out of a Houston cracking plant as a ruined batch of ethylene and other toxic chemicals is burned off after a hydrogen line snapped.
Such accidents are common on this side of Houston, where poisonous smoke rains on local neighbourhoods.
And it is not just visible emissions locals have to worry about.
LaNell Anderson lived in the shadow of the Houston smoke stacks - her mother and father both died young, victims of bone cancer and lung disease, which made Ms Anderson suspicious.
She started taking air samples after an ethylene leak caused the local high school running team to collapse on the track.
Lab analysis of her bucket samples has found carcinogens in the air that are way above legal limits.
She has since found that local cancer cases are twice the normal rate.
Driving around the area it is possible to smell hydrogen sulphide in the air, a contravention of regulations.
"They're not supposed to be releasing anything, these are outside chemical impacts, that's not supposed to happen its supposed to stop at the fence," she says.
So how do the polluters get away with it?
Ms Anderson has her own theory about "vending machine governance, where the lobbyists put the money in and out comes slacker regulation."
Centre for petrochemicals
Texas is the centre of America's petrochemical industry - home to the nation's biggest refinery, Exxon's plant in Baytown.
Ms Anderson has Exxon in her sights, "they're the largest emitter in Harris County and they have the worst attitude of any corporation I've ever witnessed," she said.
Exxon would not accept her assessment and neither would George W Bush.
As Texas governor, Mr Bush quietly set up a committee led by Exxon, with other big oil and chemical companies, to advise him what to do about the state's deadly air pollution.
Regulators wanted compulsory cuts in emissions of up to 50% - this "secret" committee instead proposed making the cuts voluntary.
Mr Bush duly steered the polluters plan through the state legislature.
Texas anti-corruption law made it illegal to donate money to Mr Bush as governor whilst such legislation was under consideration.
But that month, Mr Bush declared for his candidacy for president - making the $150,000 donated by committee members and their representatives completely legal.
The bill passed and pollution did go down - by just 3% - saving the companies hundreds of millions of dollars compared to the compulsory cut.
And there has been a bonus for chemical industry donors since Mr Bush became president.
The BBC's Newsnight programme learnt he is quietly restricting public access to estimates of the number of people who will burn or die in the event of a catastrophic explosion near these plants.
A walk through downtown Houston takes you past the headquarters of some of Mr Bush's biggest campaign fund donors.
The El Paso Corporation, which gave $750,000 to the Republican campaign, is now under investigation for manipulating the California power market.
Other big contributors include Dynegy, which gave $300,000 and Reliant, which gave $600,000.
And the Enron Corporation, America's number one power trading company, has given more money than any other to Mr Bush's political campaigns.
William S Farish, president of W S Farish and Co, gave $140,000. Mr Bush subsequently made him ambassador to Great Britain.
Investigations are proceeding into profiteering by power traders during the California energy crisis and blackouts.
The state of California has accused the El Paso Corporation and Dynegy of deliberately restricting the flow of natural gas through the pipeline from Texas creating an artificial shortage which caused prices to go up ten-fold.
President Clinton ordered an end to speculation in energy prices in California, which bit into the profits of El Paso, Reliant, Enron and Dynegy.
Between them the four companies gave $3.5m to Mr Bush and the Republicans. Three days after his inauguration Mr Bush swept away Mr Clinton's anti-speculation orders.
Profits for these four power traders are now up $220m in the first quarter.
And protection against pollution is set to weaken further, the BBC's Newsnight programme has discovered that deep in Mr Bush's new budget, the million-dollar fund for civil enforcement to deter pollution will be axed.
In the future law enforcement will be left to locals.
Click here to watch Greg Palast's report
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