A Polluting Energy Secretary?




I

n
the bizarre world that President Bush lives in, it pays—literally—to
be a miserable failure, a criminal, and a corporate con artist.
Those are just some of the characteristics of the men and women
who were tapped recently to fill the vacancies in Bush’s second-term
cabinet. 


But
one of the president’s most outrageous decisions (besides naming
Alberto Gonzales, the person who concocted a legal case for torturing
foreign prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, as attorney
general) has got to be choosing 66-year-old Sam Bodman to serve
as secretary of energy. Bodman ran a Texas-based chemical company
that was one of the top five  worst polluters. 


It’s
not just a few clouds of smoke that got Bodman’s old company,
the Boston-based Cabot Corporation, those accolades. Cabot is the
world’s largest producer of industrial carbon black, a byproduct
of the oil refinery process. It was 54,000 tons of toxic emissions
that his company’s refineries released into the air in Texas
in 1997 alone that made Cabot the fourth largest source of toxic
emissions in Texas. 


In
2000, the year Bodman left Cabot to join the Bush administration
as deputy commerce secretary, Cabot accounted for 60,000 of the
more than half-a-million tons of toxic emissions released into the
Texas air, according to a report by the Texas State Summary of Emissions. 


A
loophole created in the 1972 Texas Clean Air Act exempted or “grandfathered”
industrial plants built before 1971 from  stricter pollution
control rules. But in the mid-1990s companies such as Cabot were
supposed to curb the pollution coming from their refineries. Environmentalists
demanded that then Governor Bush rein in the polluters and close
the so-called grandfather loophole as the air in Texas got worse. 


Instead,
in 1997 Bush asked two oil company executives to outline a voluntary
program that allowed the grandfathered polluters to decide on their
own exactly how much to cut the pollution at their plants. The oil
execs summoned a meeting of two dozen industry reps at Exxon’s
offices in Houston and presented them with the program. 


In
a memo obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, one executive
wrote, “Clearly the insiders from oil and gas believe that
the Governor’s office will ‘persuade’ the [Texas
Natural Resource Conservation Commission] to accept what program
is developed between the industry group and the Governor’s
Office.” 


“And
they did. And two years later this joke of a program was enacted
into law by a bill written by the general counsel for the Texas
Chemical Council who also lobbies for energy and utility companies.
The bill was denounced by newspapers across the state,” according
to a March 5, 2000 report in the

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

.



According
to people familiar with the legislation, Sam Bodman was part of
the original working group that drafted legislation that Gov. Bush
signed into law, basically permitting Cabot and other companies
to continue to emit the same levels—and in some cases more—toxic
emissions as they had been years earlier without so much as a slap-on-the-wrist


Bodman’s
shoddy environmental record aside, he may also be complicit in one
of Africa’s deadliest wars. In October 2002, Bodman’s
former company came under fire when a United Nations panel of experts
report accused the company, along with several other U.S. corporations,
of helping to fuel the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(DRC) by purchasing coltan during the conflict and illegally plundering
the country’s vast natural resources. 


Cabot
has publicly denied these allegations, but a report by the Belgian
Senate states that Eagle Wings Resources International had a long-term
contract to supply Cabot with coltan, which it too purchased from
the Congo during the war. Eagle Wings was also identified in the
UN report as contributing to the war. 


In
response, the U.S.-based environmental group Friends of the Earth
(FOE) and the UK-based human rights group Rights and Accountability
in Development (RAID) filed a complaint with the U.S. State Department
last August against Cabot and several other western corporations
claiming they violated the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development’s (OECD) “Guidelines for Multinational
Enterprises,” a set of international standards for responsible
corporate behavior. 


The
UN panel said in its report that a “Three-year investigation
found that sophisticated elite networks of high-level political,
military and businesspersons, in collaboration with various rebel
groups, intentionally fueled the conflict in order to retain control
over the country’s vast natural resources. The panel implicated
many Western companies for directly or indirectly helping to fuel
the war.” 


The
State Department is the agency in charge of deciding whether U.S.
companies breach the OECD guidelines. Despite the allegations included
in the UN report and the complaint filed by the two activist groups,
the State Department has refused to launch an independent investigation
into whether Cabot, under Bodman’s leadership, and the other
U.S. companies might have contributed to the war in the Democratic
Republic of Congo. 


Cabot
is the world’s largest coltan refiner. The other U.S. corporations
identified in the UN report, Kemet and Vishay, both purchase processed
tantalum (the metal extracted from coltan) from Cabot. Under Bodman’s
leadership an unknown amount of the coltan Cabot was purchasing
could have originated from the DRC. Cabot has stated, “To the
best of its knowledge none [of its coltan came] from environmentally
sensitive areas in Africa, but it can’t be sure.” 


As
Energy Secretary, Bodman will be looking out for the energy behemoths
he used to commiserate with while he was chair and chief executive
of Cabot, Vice President Dick Cheney being one of them. Many of
those energy corporations have donated millions to fund President
Bush’s inaugural parties. Cheney wants Bodman to reward their
pals by making a convincing case for why the president’s controversial
energy policy should sail through Congress, the environment be damned.






Jason Leopold
is the author of the forthcoming book



Off the Record: An
Investigative Journalist’s Inside View of Dirty Politics, Corporate
Scandal, and a Double Life Exposed



(Rowman & Littlefield).