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Greg Palast reports on a surprising series of coincidences 17/5/01
Any fantasy that a CEO has can
come true if you put enough money
into Bush's political ambitions.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist
to figure out that the lobbyist's
money has found its mark.
For George W Bush's run for the White
House, Texas energy giants ponied
up $50 million. The return on their
investment, changes in government
rules worth over $5 billion. They
didn't have to wait for Bush's
election. Payback began right here,
while Bush was still Governor.
Welcome to toxic Texas. A 15 mile
ride through a forest of smoke
stacks on the edge of Houston, the
place famous for pumping out
pollution, profits and the
political donation that helped put
George W Bush into the White House.
Let's go down and take a look. When
it comes to pollution, Texas is
champ, the number one state in
emissions of greenhouse gases and
toxic chemicals. This mile-long
cloud of smoke and flames 200 feet
high erupted out of a Houston
cracking plant. They're burning off
a ruined batch of toxic chemicals
after a hydrogen line snapped. This
sort of accident is common this
side of Houston, where poisonous
smoke rains on local neighbourhoods.
And it's not just visible emissions
locals have to worry about. LyNell
Anderson lived in the shadow of the
Houston smoke stacks. Her mother
and father died too young, bone cancer
and lung disease, and LyNell
became suspicious. She started
taking air samples after an
ethylene leak caused a local high
school running team to collapse on
the track. Lab analysis of her
bucket samples have found
carcinogens in the air way above
TEXAS BUCKET BRIGADE
Ah, we've got a good sample. That's
an excellent sample.
She has since found out that local
lung cancer cases are twice the
normal rate. She took us on a toxic
They don't want to pay to have
them disposed of properly.
What are you doing?
I'm smelling something. Do you
Oh, yeah. It's disgusting, but
tell me what it is we're smelling.
It's hydrogen sulphide. It's that
rotten eggs smell. Do you smell it?
That's what it is, it's hydrogen
Are they supposed to be releasing
No. They're not supposed
to be releasing anything. Offsite
chemical impacts is what they're
not supposed to have. In other
words, they're supposed to stay
within their fence line.
How do the polluters get away
Vending machine governors
in the citizens' view is, when the
lobbyists put the money in, they
get what they paid for out, and
that is relaxed regulations. So
it's just an ongoing war with the
corporations. They don't care what
their neighbours think. They don't
care if their neighbours die.
This is the home of America's
petrochemical industry, including
the nation's biggest refinery,
Exxon's plant in Bay Town.
Exxon is on my radar screen.
Because they're the largest emitter
in Harris County and they have the
worst attitude of any corporation
Exxon wouldn't accept that,
and neither would George Bush. As
Texas Governor, Bush quietly set up
a committee, led by Exxon, with
other oil and chemical companies to
advise him what to do about the
state's deadly air pollution.
Regulators wanted compulsory cuts
on emissions of up to 50%. This
secret committee, instead, proposed
making the cuts voluntary. Bush
steered the polluters' plan through
the state legislature. Texas
anti-corruption law makes it
illegal to donate money to Bush as
Governor while such legislation is
under consideration, but that month,
Bush declared for President, making
the $150,000 donated by committee
members and their representatives
legal. The bill passed and
pollution did go down by 3%, saving
the companies hundreds of millions
of dollars compared to the
compulsory cut. And there's been a
bonus for the chemical industry
donors since Bush became President.
He's quietly restricting public
access to estimates of the number
of people who will burn or die in
case of a catastrophic explosion
near these plants. On a clear day,
you can see downtown Houston.
This is Enron Field, new home to
the Houston Astros, $265 million,
including the sliding roof. You've
never heard of Enron Corporation?
They're America's number one
power-trading team and they know
you can't win the power game unless
you play the political game, and
they're the champs. No-one has
given more money to the political
campaigns of George Bush than
Enron. Let's go and see if we can
find their headquarters. The biggest
power traders are on this corner.
Is this it? No, Elpaso. Elpaso is in
a little trouble. They're under
investigation for manipulating the
California power market. Luckily
they gave $750,000 to the Republican
campaign. This it? No, that's Reliant,
$600,000 to the Republicans. Oh, Mr
Ferish's building. He gave $140,000
and Bush made him Ambassador to
Great Britain. The guy that got
France put up $400,000. Let's see,
Dynergy, only $300,000. There's a
new building. Maybe that's our boys.
Investigations are proceeding into
profiteering by power traders
during the California energy crisis
and blackouts. The state of
California has accused Elpaso
Corporation and Dynergy of
restricting the flow of natural gas
through the pipeline from Texas,
creating an artificial shortage
causing prices to go up ten fold.
On December 14, President Clinton
ordered an end to speculation in
energy prices in California which
bit into the profits of Elpaso and
Dynergy and Enron and Reliant too.
But they were betting on another
horse. Between them they gave $3.5
million to Bush and the Republicans.
Reliant told us:
"Frankly, we feel
some candidates' philosophies will
benefit the company, its stock
holders and its customers more than
Three days after his
inauguration, Bush swept away
Clinton's anti-speculation orders.
Profits for these power traders are
up $220 million in the first quarter.
After Bush lifted the controls,
Enron's profits jumped $87 million.
Not a bad return on political
contributions of $1.8 million. We
skidaddled out of the big city,
following the Bush money trail
200 miles west into the mesquite,
ranches and cowboy country. But
there's a big hole on the range
where the deer and the antelope
should be playing. See that lovely
scar down there? That's a
lignite strip mine. It's about
the filthiest fuel you can burn. It
feeds the Alcoa aluminium plant. I
wonder what it's like to live next
to that thing? Alcoa is facing a
demand to cut emissions by 50%.
That would have meant replacing the
cheap and dirty lignite with clean,
but expensive natural gas. But
within a month of the vote on
Bush's voluntary pollution law, a
train with a law firm pleading
Alco's case to regulators gave
$170,000 to the Republican campaign.
Coincidence? Alcoa denies any link.
They told us they exert no control
over the legal and lobbying firms
they retain. In sleepy Rockdale,
its rancher Wayne Brinkley faces
the fallout. Why don't you clean
that thing, buddy.
Well, you can't get it off.
It's got potash from the plant. It
won't come off. I've tried to wash
it. It just won't come off. If you
notice the roof over there, it's
rusty and that's coming from the
plant. I tell you one thing, if
that tree ever dies from the
pollution, I will be mad.
Too late for that one.
The tree line right here is the edge
of the property and the mine's on
the other side of the tree lines. And
then you can see where the plant is
located right here, which is east of us.
And you can see the smoke coming
out of there now. There's sulphur
burning. It burns your eyes.
There's just a lot of pollution
comes out of that plant. They don't
want to do anything about it.
And there will be no point going to
the environmental protection agency.
Newsnight has discovered deep in
Bush's new budget, the $1 million
fund for civil enforcement to deter
pollution will be axed. Law
enforcement will be left to locals
and in Texas, the weak state
watchdog is letting Alcoa open
a new lignite pit 20 miles away.
Now other ranchers are coming to
Wayne's to see what they're
NEIGHBOURS FOR NEIGHBOURS
Hey Wayne, how's it going?
Billie Woods is on the front line.
So, you have a little hole near
you. I mean, you've got to have
aluminium in this country.
It's not a little hole. It's 250 feet
deep. They close roads. They pump
out all the water. My well will go
dry. They run their operations 365
days a year, 24 hours a day. I will
no longer be able to see stars at
night from the lights. I run a stable
that is dependent on the serenity
of the area.
Alcoa's former chief, Paul
O'Neill, is making new friends.
Bush named him secretary of the US
Treasury, so he has to sell off his
Alcoa shares. He'll get about $100
million. Alcoa made a $100,000
contribution to the Bush-Cheney
inaugural. They said it was in
honour of Paul O'Neill. He's also
on Vice-President Dick Cheney's
energy group. Apart from Paul
O'Neill, the committee includes
Bush's commerce secretary, Don
Evans. He was CEO of Tom Brown
Inc, a billion dollar oil and gas
company. And energy secretary,
Spencer Abraham, a motor industry
favourite. They gave him $700,000
last year. And Dick Cheney, the
Vice-President, former boss of
Halliburton, the world's largest
oil services firm. And, what a
coincidence, today, the Cheney
group recommended building more
nukes, drilling more oil and
burning more coal. Our hunt for the
secret behind Bush's astonishing
fundraising prowess eventually led
us to the Texas state capital.
Executives of the big banking firm
MBNA invested $3 million in George
Bush's political career. Their boss,
Charles M Collie contributed
TEXANS FOR PUBLIC JUSTICE
What did they get? One of the first
pieces of legislation to go through
Congress under President Bush is a
bankruptcy bill that protects MBNA,
the largest manufacturer and seller
of credit cards. Citizens in this
country can no longer write off
credit card debt when they file for
bankruptcy. Collie bet early and
often that Bush would some day be
in the White House and deliver on
Wall Street analysts put MBNA's
gain at $75 million. Collie is a
pioneer, not the kind that lives
in a little house on the prairie,
but a member of a special club
set up by George Bush.
He put together this network of
what they call the pioneers. A
group of 400 people, most of
them corporate executives who
pledged to raise a minimum of
$100,000. That network alone
delivered over $40 million.
But what did they get in return?
We went into the capital to ask
a real pioneer the tough questions.
Tell us about chaps?
SENATOR TEEL BIVINS:
No, they're not chaps, they're "shaps".
They're spelt c-h-a-p-s. But I'm in
the ranching business. That's what
a Texan does.
Senator Teel Bivins is a power in
the Texas legislature. One of the
founding pioneers along with Ken
Lay, the CEO of Enron Corporation.
George W gave the Senator his
I'm Biv. I said Teel Bivins and he said,
"Biv, how are you?" and that's it.
I've been Biv ever since.
So, if Americans want to be on
first-name terms with the President,
do they have to pay for it?
The reality is individuals in a country
with 300 million people have very
little opportunity to speak to the
President of the US.
Well, Ken Lay, who was a pioneer,
has had direct access to the President
as a member of the transition team
advising the Governor on energy
matters, including those issues in
California which made Enron a very
profitable corporation that year.
He's had access, as a pioneer.
So, you would not have direct access
if you had not spent two years of your
life working to get this guy elected
President, raising hundreds of
thousands of dollars? You dance
with them, what brung ya?
This is the model for Bush's America.
For Bush's planet. It's all in Cheney's
energy announcement, another
Pioneer pay day.