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    Floyd J. McKay: 'When Texans run Congress, Big Oil picks our pockets'
    Seattle Times

    Let's have a toast to the Snohomish County Public Utility District, Sen. Maria Cantwell and a handful of others in public power.

    They scored a rare victory over Big Oil and its well-heeled lobbyists and lackeys in the Texas congressional delegation. These are the folks running the country these days, with a president and vice president in lockstep.

    Snohomish PUD looked the corrupt Enron Goliath in the eye in 2001 and threw a David-like rock that finally scored this past week. The PUD, minuscule by Big Oil standards, saw through Enron and broke its contract in 2001. Enron sued for termination fees, some $125 million.

    Cantwell took up the PUD's cause, enlisted some fair-minded Republican senators with her Democratic colleagues, and inserted an amendment in the huge energy bill moving through Congress. The amendment got Snohomish PUD off the hook, but Enron's lobbyists, corporate creditors and Texas Republicans Joe Barton (House Energy chairman) and Tom DeLay (House GOP leader) went to bat for their buddies, who have bankrolled many Texas GOP campaigns. They fought Cantwell's amendment.

    In the final House-Senate conference, Cantwell's amendment prevailed. Some PUDs in Nevada and California shared in the Snohomish win.

    That's the good news — finally a break for ordinary people, the ratepayers who avoided a 25-percent surcharge next year.

    Now the bad news.

    The PUD's reprieve, which doesn't come from taxpayers but rather from Enron's creditors, is a small victory in a huge, huge windfall for Big Oil. The energy bill features some $9 billion — that's right, billion — in tax breaks for, guess who?

    Big Oil, gas and coal.

    As if they needed it, with record profits across the board and reams of tax breaks extended over the years, particularly when Texans run Congress. Adding insult to injury, DeLay engineered a last-minute, $1.5 billion giveaway to an energy consortium in his district.

    In effect, the energy giants were given a banquet at which they will be able to gorge themselves for years, while Snohomish PUD and other small fry settle gratefully for table scraps.

    Included in the table-scraps side of things is energy efficiency and conservation. Senators demanded funds for conservation and stopped Barton from granting even more goodies to his friends. But Big Oil and other already profitable energy giants get two-thirds of the benefits; marginal alternative energy gets one-third. There's no attempt to increase vehicle fuel efficiency.

    This is going on in our nation's capital, while the populace fulminates about same-sex marriage, abortion, school prayer and other hot-button issues. Behind the scenes, the people who really run the country are simply picking our pockets, and have been doing so since George W. Bush was elected in 2000.

    Step by step, they are dismantling 70 years of federal efforts to keep alive what we once called The American Dream. More and more influence and power are shifting to corporate offices, while working families have lost sight of the ability to own a home, educate their children and expect a secure retirement.

    The president has failed (for now) to dismantle Social Security, but the battle overshadowed the constant, daily pecking away at the legacy of the New Deal and progressive administrations since 1932. Even Ronald Reagan, conservative to the core, did not dig into bedrock social programs as the Bush administration has been digging, with full support in the Texan-dominated House.

    Big Oil and Big Defense have roots in Texas soil (think Halliburton) and they are in the money today, thanks to endless wars and bottomless gas tanks.

    At every occasion, the Texans who run the House take another nip at laws and regulations that provide minimal checks on corporate power. The energy bill weakened several provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also made it easier for utilities to merge, becoming even larger and more remote from their customers.

    If we have three more years of this — a bone for Snohomish PUD and a lavish banquet for Exxon Mobil and Halliburton, along with undeserved and unnecessary tax breaks for rich folks and rich corporations, corporate control of our society will be so entrenched it will take generations to reverse.

    Before then, Congressmen Barton and DeLay will be in their second careers lobbying on Capitol Hill for Big Oil, Bush will be building a lavish presidential library funded by Big Oil, and the so-called Republican base will be wondering how their social agenda got ignored while the Real Republican Base stole their wallets.

    Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages. E-mail him at [email protected]

    Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

    Reprinted from The Seattle Times:

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