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North Carolina implements a new program, “NC Greenpower,” that for the first time allows state residents to buy their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and biomass. Customers would pay between 2.5 cents and 4 cents per kilowatt-hour extra for the so-called “green” power. [Grist Magazine, 1/29/2003]
Fadhil Chalabi, a former Iraqi oil minister and a second cousin of Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi, tells the Financial Times that within five years of Saddam Hussein’s removal, Iraq could rival Saudi Arabia in oil production. “The first phase, which would probably last one to two years, would see Halliburton, Schlumberger, and other service companies helping Iraq restore its production from the current 2.5m b/d average to 3.5m b/d, a volume it last saw in July 1990, just before it invaded Kuwait. The second, the development phase, would include the world’s biggest oil companies, among them BP, Total, ChevronTexaco, Exxon/Mobil, Shell, Lukoil, and Eni, vying for lucrative production sharing contracts with the new government.” By 2008, Chalabi suggests, Iraq could be producing 10 million barrels/day. [Financial Times, 2/21/2003]
The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, declines to appeal a case attempting to force Vice President Cheney to disclose his Energy Task Force documents (see May 16, 2001, February 22, 2002, and December 9, 2002). This ends a potentially historic showdown between the Congressional watchdog agency and the executive branch. [Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2003] It is widely believed that the suit is dropped because of pressure from the Republican Party—the suit was filed when the Democrats controlled the Senate, and this decision comes shortly after the Republicans gained control of it. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The head of the GAO denies the lawsuit is dropped because of Republican threats to cut his office’s budget, but US Comptroller General David Walker, who led the case, says there was one such “thinly veiled threat” last year by a lawmaker he wouldn’t identify. [Reuters, 2/25/2003] Another account has Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and a number of other congresspeople making the threat to Walker. [Hill, 2/19/2003] The GAO has previously indicated that accepting defeat in this case would cripple its ability to oversee the executive branch. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003] A similar suit filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club continues to move forward, but will ultimately be defeated by the Supreme Court (see May 10, 2005). [Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
Picking Its Battles - Walker explains that to continue the case “would require investment of significant time and resources over several years.” Later, he will say that he decided not to appeal the case for what reporter Charlie Savage will call “damage-control reasons.” Walker does not want to involve the GAO in what he fears will be perceived as a partisan conflict, and he does not want to risk further crippling the GAO’s ability to function by risking another negative ruling from a federal appeals court. “If the GAO was going to fight that legal battle,” Savage will write in explanation of Walker’s reasoning, “it was strategically unwise to use a case that involved records inside the White House itself instead of a less prominent part of the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 113]
Refusal to Appeal 'Stunning' - In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that he finds the GAO’s decision not to appeal the ruling “stunning.” Walker says the GAO isn’t going to challenge the ruling because it does not materially affect the GAO’s ability to function because the “decision did not address the merits” of the GAO’s arguments. The ruling, Walker says, “has no effect on GAO’s statutory audit rights or the obligation of agencies to provide GAO with information.” Dean calls this line of reasoning “wishful thinking at its best.” Dean will ask a high-level GAO official about the reported threats from Congressional Republicans. The official will reply that the threats did not worry Walker and the GAO lawyers nearly as much as the possibility that, if the GAO were to pursue the lawsuit, then, Dean will write, “the Supreme Court could do again what it did in Bush v. Gore and make Walker v. Cheney the landmark ruling ending virtually all Congressional oversight.” But lawyers for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) say that the ruling as it stands places severe restrictions on Congressional oversight. As Dean puts it: “The GAO has lost not only standing to file a lawsuit but the leverage of the threat of filing such a lawsuit, should an executive department or agency stonewall the way Cheney did. The GAO must now simply take what the White House (and its many appendages…) volunteers. This has never before been the case. [The GAO] will see only what Bush and Cheney want it to see.” The CRS notes that the ruling “calls into question the ability of Congress to delegate investigative authority to its agents;” Dean will write that this “may be the true reason for the lawsuit and for Cheney’s actions.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 80-81]
'Big Win' for Bush/Cheney - Constitutional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution will call the ruling a “big win” for the Bush-Cheney administration, saying: “President Bush and Vice President Cheney have an extreme and relentless executive-centered conception of American government, and it plays out every day, and there are dozens of fronts in this effort to strengthen the presidency. Power naturally gravitates to the presidency in times of uncertainty. But people are going to question putting all of our trust in an unfetttered presidency.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein is more blunt. “Now they have a precedent that they can hold over Congress’s head,” he will say. “Like a loaded gun. Forever.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ted Stevens, Energy Task Force, John Dean, David Walker, Bruce Fein, Charlie Savage, Congressional Research Service, Brookings Institution, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Thomas Mann
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
As war with Iraq looms, big multinational oil companies anticipate the bonanza to be reaped: Iraq has the world’s second largest oil reserves. ConocoPhillips chairman Archie Dunham tells the Financial Times, “We know where the best resources are [and] we covet the opportunity to get them some day.” [Financial Times, 2/25/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 289]
The Brookings Institution hosts the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline Project Roundtable. The proposed pipeline would transport Caspian Sea oil 1000 miles from Azerbaijan, through Georgia, and to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Delegates from each of the three countries and executives and consultants from British Petroleum attend the discussion. The US is a strong supporter of the pipeline project because it believes the pipeline will deny Iran leverage in the transportation of oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Basin. [Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 11/27/2002; Institution, 3/4/2003]
Praising a judicial ruling against efforts to obtain information about his Energy Task Force, Vice President Dick Cheney says, “I think it restored some of the legitimate authority of the executive branch, the president and the vice president, to be able to conduct their business.” [Congress Daily, 6/29/2007]
Halliburton is paid $304,486,577 to import 191,965,150 gallons of gasoline into Iraq at an average price of $1.59 per gallon. This does not include the two to seven percent bonus the company will receive as part of its cost-plus contract, which will bring the total cost to between $1.62 and $1.70 per gallon. The Congressional Research Center will later report that during this time the wholesale cost of gas in the Middle East was only 71 cents per gallon, meaning that Halliburton was charging the government 91 to 99 cents for transporting a single gallon of gas to Iraq. Later, an expert interviewed by the staff of Congressman Henry A. Waxman will claim that the gas could have easily been transported into Iraq for 20 to 25 cents per gallon. Another will claim that it could have been done for as little as 10 cents per gallon. [US Congress, 10/15/2003, pp. 3-4 ]
Bush signs Executive Order 13303, which declares: “Unless licensed or otherwise authorized pursuant to this order, any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void, with respect to the following: the Development Fund for Iraq, and all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations, or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons.” Watchdog groups interpret this as a way of granting a sweeping legal immunity from lawsuits and criminal charges to US oil firms that do business with Iraqi oil. [US President, 5/26/2003 ; Los Angeles Times, 8/7/2003]
CNN reports that despite US government prohibitions (see March 15, 1995 and May 6, 1995) banning US citizens and business from doing business with Iran, dozens of US companies are actively conducting business there, including Halliburton, ConocoPhillips and General Electric. The companies are using a complicated array of corporate loop-holes and off-shore accounts to maneuver around US laws. Michael Ledeen, interviewed by CNN, says these companies are aiding terrorism. “The oil companies are a wholly owned subsidiary of the government… the government is the primary sponsor of terrorism,” he says, additionally claiming that “they have separate organizations that are used to funnel oil profits and other profits into the terror network.” [CNN, 2/10/2003; CNN, 5/29/2003]
Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” [Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).
The US Department of Commerce prepares a memo for the president concerning the US-UK Energy Dialog, a bilateral initiative that was established during the April 2002 meeting of Prime Minister Blair and President Bush to “enhance coordination and cooperation on energy issues” (see April 6-7, 2002). The memo states: “Current forecasts for the oil sector put global demand by 2030 at about 120 million barrels per day (mbd), which is roughly 45 mbd higher than today. While recognizing that the increasing role of Russia and other non-OPEC producers, a large proportion of the world’s additional demand will likely be met by the Middle East (mainly Middle East Gulf) producers. They hold over half of current proven reserves, exploration and production costs are the lowest in the world, and production in many mature fields in the OECD area is likely to fall. To meet future world energy demand, the current installed capacity in the Gulf (currently 23 mbd) may need to rise to as much as 52 mbd by 2030.” [Muttitt, 2005]
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announces that security forces at the Indian Point nuclear plant, in upstate New York, have thwarted a mock terrorist attack. The mock attack was held under quite different circumstances from a possible real strike by terrorists: the guards were told exactly what date the mock attack would be held on, the mock terrorists were required to attack during daylight hours, and the number of attackers was limited to three. [Carter, 2004, pp. 18-19] Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) calls the drill inadequate. Lowey asks: “Were guards required to defend against airborne and water-based threats, two of Indian Point’s greatest vulnerabilities? Why does poor performance in these drills carry no penalties? Our nuclear facilities must be protected by top-notch security forces that undergo regular, rigorous exercises that reflect the real-world terrorist threats we face today” (see Between July 9 and July 16, 2001). Alex Matthiessen, the director of the environmental organization Riverkeeper, agrees with Lowey: “When the NRC conducts a drill that tests post-9/11 terrorist scenarios and when they allow truly independent observers and experts to observe the drill, only then will I begin to believe that Indian Point’s security is robust or adequate. At this point the NRC has no credibility with the public, having just rubber-stamped a patently flawed emergency plan.” A spokesman for Entergy, the corporation that owns and operates the plant, calls the mock attack “rigorous and realistic.” [New York Times, 8/12/2003]
Philip Carroll, the chief adviser to the new Iraqi government’s oil ministry, and Gary Vogler, another adviser, resign and are replaced by Rob McKee, a former vice president of ConocoPhillips, and Terry Adams of BP Oil. [Muttitt, 2005; Harper's, 4/2005, pp. 75]
Iraqi oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum tells the Financial Times that Iraq is preparing plans for the privatization of the country’s oil sector. He says he supports the “full privatization of downstream installations, such as refineries, but [says] he would back production-sharing contracts upstream,” the newspaper reports. He adds that US, possibly European, oil companies will be given priority. But he also says the decision will not be made until Iraq has an elected government. “The new elected government at the end of the transitional period will decide this issue,” he tells the Times. “The Iraqi oil sector needs privatization, but it’s a cultural issue,” he explains. “People lived for the last 30 to 40 years with this idea of nationalism.” Al-Ulum—a US-trained petroleum engineer who lived in London from 1992 until the overthrow of Hussein—was part of a working group organized by the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project before the invasion (see December 20-21, 2002). [Financial Times, 9/5/2003]
Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, says in a statement that Iran would allow Iraq to export oil through Iranian terminals or to enter into an oil swap arrangement of up to 350,000 barrels a day. A swap deal would help Iraq finance its reconstruction by allowing the country to export its oil to Iran’s refineries while Iran sells a comparable amount of Iranian crude oil on Iraq’s behalf. Iran also offers to supply its neighbor with electricity and gas, and says it could also help Iraq secure up to $300 million in buyers’ and suppliers’ credits. [Reuters, 10/24/2003]
After 71 days of negotiations, Congressional Republicans announce that they have agreed on an energy bill that would provide some $20 billion in tax breaks for power companies. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003] President Bush voices his support for the bill—drafted mostly by Republicans—which he says will make the US “safer and stronger” by helping to “keep the lights on, the furnaces lit, and the factories running.” He also states, “By making America less reliant on foreign sources of energy, we also will make our nation more secure.” [New York Times, 11/15/2003; US President, 11/24/2003] To facilitate the bill’s passage through Congress, “negotiators sprinkled in dozens of sweeteners sought by states and congressional districts,” including nearly $1 billion in shoreline restoration projects, tax credits for a company that manufactures fuel from compressed turkey carcasses, and a provision doubling the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive. The Republican lawmakers also dropped a section that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, as Democrats had made clear that they would vote against any bill containing such a provision. But the Republicans decided against including a Democrat-favored plan to require large utility companies to steadily increase their use of energy from clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar power. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003] The bill includes:
A provision introduced by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that would provide energy companies and universities with $2 billion in subsidies over the next 10 years for research and development of ultra deep-water oil exploration techniques and “unconventional” natural gas extraction. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
A controversial provision granting Gulf Coast refiners of the fuel additive MTBE $2 billion in subsidies to assist them in the phasing out of MTBE production. The phase-out, originally proposed to take 4 years, is extended to 10 by the bill. MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, which helps decrease smog, is known to contaminate groundwater. The new energy bill would also prevent communities from bringing product liability lawsuits against the manufacturers of MTBE. Tom Delay was a strong supporter of this provision, as were other legislators from Louisiana and Texas, where MTBE is produced. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
A section dealing with the electric grid that would require large power companies to meet new mandatory reliability standards. [New York Times, 11/15/2003; New York Times, 11/16/2003]
Royalty relief to the owners of marginal oil and gas wells. The program would apply to approximately 80 percent of all wells on federal lands. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
A provision that would allow taxpayer money to fund the clean-up of leaking underground gasoline storage tanks (LUST). [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
A provision authorizing Alaska’s “Denali Commission” to use over $1 billion on hydroelectric and other energy projects on Alaska Federal Lands. [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
A provision permitting urban areas like Dallas-Ft. Worth, Washington, DC and southwestern Michigan to further delay efforts to reduce air pollution, “an action that will place a significant burden on states and municipalities down-wind of these urban centers.” [Natural Resources Defense Council et al., 11/17/2003]
$100 million/year in production tax credits for the construction of up to four light-water nuclear reactors. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2003]
Loan guarantees for building a $20 billion trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline. But officials of ConocoPhillips, a major backer of the project, complain that the bill’s incentives are insufficient to get the project moving. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2003]
Tax incentives to encourage wind power generators, energy-efficient homes and hybrid passenger cars running on gasoline and batteries. Additionally, it sets aside funds for equipping government buildings with photovoltaic cells and developing energy-efficient traffic lights. The package also allocates $6.2 million to encourage bicycle use. But according to a preliminary estimate by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, these progressive reforms would eliminate only about three months worth of energy use between now and 2020. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003]
A repeal of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act, which limits utility industry mergers. This provision was a top priority for the electric power industry and the White House. [Washington Post, 11/16/2003] Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the conference committee charged with resolving differences between the House and Senate bills, acknowledge to the New York Times that the bill will likely be criticized. [New York Times, 11/15/2003]
The Bureau of Land Management grants Questar Exploration and Development Corporation a special exemption to drill four gas wells on Wyoming’s Pinedale Mesa throughout the winter season for the second year in a row. The company will drill the wells from a single pad using directional drilling technology instead of from multiple pads which would require the use of more space and the construction of more roads. Normally companies are barred from drilling between November 15 and April 30 in order to protect the region’s wildlife population. [Associated Press, 11/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004] For at least 6,000 years, the area has served as a crucial winter range and migration corridor between the Wind River and Wyoming mountain ranges for more than 100,000 mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. Biologists fear that winter drilling in the region could disrupt this annual migration, causing significant losses to the wildlife population. For example, the corridor is critical to the survival of a herd of pronghorn antelope because it receives a lesser amount of snow than the surrounding areas. Pronghorn antelope cannot survive in the deep snow because it makes it impossible for them to evade their predators. [National Geographic, 3/28/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004]
Bruce Buckheit, the director of the EPA’s air enforcement office, is ordered to shut down ongoing New Source Review investigations—which he later says were strong cases—at several dozen coal burning power plants. In an April 2004 interview with MSNBC, he will recall: “I had to tell the regional engineers and lawyers, stop. Put your documents in the box, so that hopefully we can get back to it someday.” [MSNBC, 4/20/2004]
The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. [Reuters, 12/15/2003]
Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Sierra Club, Environmental Protection Agency, Emmet Sullivan, Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Judicial Watch, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Iran, despite being OPEC’s second largest oil exporter, is forced to import a billion dollars worth of gasoline due to demand outstripping the country’s limited refining capacity. “We use 50 million liters of fuel each day, 10 percent more than just a year ago,” Seyyed Reza Kasaizadeh, planning director for the national refining and distribution company NIORDC, tells the Persian daily Khorasan. Roughly a quarter of that amount is purchased by the government on the open market, and then sold to the public at the same subsidized price as domestically refined fuel—roughly 35 cents per gallon. [Iran Daily, 12/12/2004] In addition to the subsidy program’s actual costs, the program also represents “a huge opportunity cost, because they could be selling that at world prices,” Ben Faulks, an analyst for the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, tells the Washington Post in mid-2005. Iran hopes that its nuclear energy program will solve this problem by reducing the country’s industrial oil consumption needs. The country would then be able to sell more of its oil at market prices and substantially increase its revenue. [Washington Post, 7/4/2005]
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announces that the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) will provide an estimated $1 billion in subsidies to promote deep drilling for natural gas in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Companies that drill wells deeper than 15,000 feet will be exempt from having to pay royalties on the first 15 billion cubic feet of gas produced. For wells deeper than 18,000 feet, royalties will be waived on the first 25 billion cubic feet. The royalty waiver will be discontinued if natural gas prices exceed $9.34 per thousand cubic feet. Without the subsidy, it would be too costly for companies to drill such wells. Norton claims that the program will save consumers money and create an estimated 26,000 new jobs. [Associated Press, 1/23/2003; Petroleum News, 2/1/2004]
The Department of Energy (DOE) says it will not request $350 million that the agency is supposed to use for the disposal of more than 85 million gallons of “high-level” radioactive waste unless Congress and state governments agree to downgrade the classification for some of the waste to “low-level” so that it can be disposed of using a less costly method that it estimates will save $29 billion. The DOE claims that some of the waste has a low enough level of radioactivity that the waste can simply be covered with concrete and left in place. But in July 2003, a federal judge in Idaho ruled that the Energy Department’s plan was illegal and that the agency was bound to the nuclear waste law, which states that liquid nuclear fuel reprocessing waste is “high-level” and needs to be buried in a permanent geological storage facility. The waste, left over from Cold War armament projects, includes 53 million gallons at the DOE’s Hanford site near Richland, Washington; 34 million gallons at its Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina; and 900,000 gallons at its INEEL facility in Idaho. Additionally, there are 600,000 gallons of waste from a short-lived civilian reprocessing program near West Valley, New York. [Associated Press, 2/26/2004; Associated Press, 4/8/2004; New York Times, 5/30/2004] A lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Geoffrey Fettus, warns that the Energy Department’s plan would in effect create “nuclear cesspools” at the weapons plants and the Savannah River plant would become the most polluted nuclear site on the planet. [New York Times, 5/30/2004]
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctions off oil and gas leases for 14 parcels of federal land located near Dinosaur Monument in Colorado and Utah. The leases—totaling some 5,000 acres—include areas that were previously identified by the agency as having wilderness quality but which lost their protected status as part of a settlement between the state of Utah and the BLM (see April 11, 2003). A number of the leases—some selling for as little as $5 per acre—are purchased by contributors to President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. [Salt Lake Tribune, 2/14/2004; Washington Post, 3/1/2004] According to the Environmental Working Group, the area includes seven Mexican spotted owl habitats, 12 golden eagle habitats and four peregrine falcon habitats. [Washington Post, 3/1/2004; Environmental Working Group, 12/31/2005]
Aerial view of Los Alamos test site. [Source: DefenseTech.org]Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years, spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government. In a Vanity Fair article, Levernier reveals what he shows to be critical weaknesses in security for US nuclear plants. Levernier’s special focus was the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and nine other major nuclear facilities. The Los Alamos facility is the US’s main storage plant for processing plutonium and obsolete (but still effective) nuclear weapons. Levernier’s main concern was terrorist attacks. Levernier’s procedure was to, once a year, stage a mock terrorist attack using US military commandos to assault Los Alamos and the other nuclear weapons facilities, with both sides using harmless laser weapons to simulate live fire. Levernier’s squads were ordered to penetrate a given weapons facility, capture its plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and escape. The facilities’ security forces were tasked to repel the mock attacks.
Multiple Failures - Levernier is going public with the results of his staged attacks, and the results are, in the words of Vanity Fair reporter Mark Hertsgaard, “alarming.” Some facilities failed every single test. Los Alamos fell victim to the mock attacks over 50 percent of the time, with Levernier’s commandos getting in and out with the goods without firing a shot—they never encountered a guard. And this came when security forces were told months in advance exactly what day the assaults would take place. Levernier calls the nuclear facilities’ security nothing more than “smoke and mirrors.… On paper, it looks good, but in reality, it’s not. There are lots of shiny gates and guards and razor wire out front. But go around back and there are gaping holes in the fence, the sensors don’t work, and it just ain’t as impressive as it appears.” The Los Alamos facility houses 2.7 metric tons of plutonium and 3.2 metric tons of highly enriched uranium; experts say that a crude nuclear device could be created using just 11 pounds of plutonium or 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Arjun Makhijani, the head of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, says the most dangerous problem exposed by Levernier is the possibility of terrorists stealing plutonium from Los Alamos. It would be a relatively simple matter to construct a so-called “dirty bomb” that could devastate an American city. Even a terrorist attack that set off a “plutonium fire” could result in hundreds of cancer deaths and leave hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
Involuntary Whistleblower - Levernier is not comfortable about being a whistleblower, and until now has never spoken to the press or Congress about his experiences. He finds himself coming forward now because, after spending six years trying unsuccessfully to persuade his bosses at the DOE to address the problems, they refused to even acknowledge that a problem existed. Shortly before he spoke to Hertsgaard, he was fired for a minor infraction and stripped of his security clearance, two years before he was due to retire with a full pension. He has filed a lawsuit against the DOE, charging that he was illegally gagged and improperly fired. He is speaking out, he says, in the hopes of helping prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against the US that is entirely preventable. Levonier asserts that the Bush administration is doing little more than talking tough about nuclear security (see February 15, 2004). [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt signs a final rule permitting power plants to continue using the “once-through” method to cool their turbines. The practice—condemned by critics as the most environmentally-damaging method of cooling available—relies upon water continually drawn from lakes, rivers and reservoirs for the power plants’ cooling systems. [Associated Press, 1/9/2004; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004; Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004; Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004] Every year, some 200 million pounds of aquatic organisms are killed when they are trapped in the intake screens or forced through the water intake structures of these power plants. The new rule requires large power plants to reduce the number of fish and shellfish drawn into the cooling systems by 80 to 95 percent. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004] However, the rule also provides large power plants with several “compliance alternatives,” such as using existing technologies, implementing additional fish protection technologies, restocking fish populations and creating wildlife habitat. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004] Leavitt’s decision to sanction the continued use of the “once-through” method goes against the advice of his own staff which recommended requiring power plants to upgrade to closed-cycle cooling systems which use 95 percent less water and which pose far less of a risk to aquatic ecosystems. But the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which works under the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, reportedly opposed requiring plants to switch to the newer more expensive closed-cycle system. [Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004; Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004] The new rule applies to 550 power plants that withdraw 222 billion gallons of water daily from American waterways. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004]
Mike Stinson of ConocoPhillips and Bob Morgan of BP replace Rob McKee and Terry Adams as advisers to Iraq’s oil ministry. The British government pays them £147,700 for their work. [Muttitt, 2005]
Asadollah Mikaeeli, the director of planning at National Iranian Oil Derivatives Refining and Distribution Company, announces that since 1982, Iran has doubled its oil refining capacity from 750,000 to 1.6 million barrels per day (mmpd). Notwithstanding, the country continues to import many petroleum products like gasoline and diesel, he says. [Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 2/25/2004]
The Supreme Court convenes to hear arguments in Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a judicial order to reveal information about his secret energy task force (see December 15, 2003). Justice Antonin Scalia has recently returned from a duck hunting trip with Cheney; though critics demand he recuse himself to avoid charges of conflict of interest, Scalia refuses. The plaintiffs, conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch and progressive environmental group Sierra Club, are heavily represented in the courtroom, and friends and supporters jam the courthouse steps. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, arguing for the government, posits that the White House enjoys a “constitutional immunity” that protects the executive branch from all requests for information unless the president himself is under criminal investigation. If the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) forces the president to make public any advice he or other White House officials have received, or even to make that information available to a judge (see August 2, 2002), FACA itself is unconstitutional, Olsen argues. “This is a case about separation of powers,” he says. Neither Congress nor the judiciary can force the president or his officials to disclose information to a judge, not even on a very limited basis to determine whether a lawsuit can proceed—a process called discovery. “We are submitting that the discovery itself violates the Constitution,” Olson asserts. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is taken aback by the sweep of his claim, which, if accepted, would gut the ability of the courts to review any civil lawsuit involving the executive branch. “All discovery?” she asks. “Yes,” Olson replies. Throughout the questioning, most of the justices seem sympathetic to the administration’s general constitutional concerns, but uncomfortable with siding entirely with the White House’s sweeping claims of inherent legal immunity from scrutiny. [Savage, 2007, pp. 166-167] The oral arguments will continue for weeks (see April 27, 2004).
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments for and against the release of records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The case is Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475) (see December 15, 2003). Two public interest groups, the environmentalist Sierra Club and the conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch, have joined to argue for the release of the records, saying that because the task force deliberations included energy industry executives and lobbyists, the task force is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires disclosure of the work of advisory groups that include non-federal employees. Bush administration lawyers, spearheaded by Solicitor General Theodore Olson, argue that releasing those records would violate the concept of “separation of powers.” The administration also argues that releasing the records, most pertinently the meetings between Cheney, his aides, and officials from energy corporations and lobbying firms, would damage the White House’s ability to receive candid advice. “This case is about the separation of powers and the president’s discretion to receive the opinions of subordinates,” Olson tells the court; Olson has resisted submitting task force documents even to the Court, saying that even that so-called “discovery” process would violate the Constitutional separation of powers. Lawyers for the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch argue that Cheney’s contacts with industry executives and lobbyists were improper while he was developing government policy that benefited their businesses. They are demanding to know whether energy lobbyists helped shape the government’s long-term energy policies. Lower courts agreed with Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, and Cheney, with the Justice Department, has successfully ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unprecedented speed.
Justices Question Breadth of Requests - Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to recuse himself from deliberations after accompanying Cheney on a duck-hunting trip in January, is one of the justices most favoring the government’s case. But even more moderate justices such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg question whether the information request is too broad and inclusive. As for the White House, it argues that neither the courts nor Congress have any right to make any inquiries into the decisions of federal agencies and officials. Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder says the White House appears to have violated laws supporting open government: “What the panel said to energy executives was: Help us decide what the energy policy should be. A line has been crossed because the process should have been transparent. The panel was inordinately influenced by the energy industry.” Cheney has said that the executive branch must defend itself against the “continual encroachment by Congress.” The White House has already turned over some 40,000 documents from the task force after a lower court ruling compelled it to do so (see July 17, 2003), but the lawsuit before the Supreme Court says that another 100,000 potentially relevant documents and files remain secret. [MSNBC, 4/26/2004; New York Times, 4/28/2004; CNN, 6/24/2004]
Cheney 'Beyond the Reach of the Law?' - In a legal analysis of the case, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean calls the case “extraordinary,” and notes that Cheney “contends that he is, in essence, beyond the reach of the law. It began as a set of rather pedestrian discovery matters in two consolidated civil lawsuits. Now, however, because of Cheney’s stance, it could be a landmark Constitutional decision.” Dean sees the case as an opportunity for Cheney, with the assistance of Olson and Scalia, “to expand executive powers.” [FindLaw, 3/26/2004]
Case Sent Back to Lower Court - The Court will vote to send the case back to the District of Columbia Appeals Court for further adjudication (see June 24, 2004). That court will rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Sierra Club, US Department of Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Supreme Court, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judicial Watch, Antonin Scalia, David Bookbinder, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Federal Advisory Committee Act, National Energy Policy Development Group
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
An Iranian man appears in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He calls the number, and 24 hours later, CIA analysts are poring over thousands of documents containing information and sketches. The CIA concludes that Iran is trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. The retrofit project is designated Project 1-11, the documents say, and analysts believe that the laptop information confirms their belief that Iran has a viable and active nuclear weapons program. Though the information on the laptop is from 2003 and earlier, it leads to the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate (see August 2, 2005) that declares “with high confidence” Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, and will give ammunition to the Bush administration’s attempts to pressure Russia, China, and the US’s European allies to sanction Iran if it does not give up its uranium enrichment program. [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Origin of Laptop - The laptop was stolen by the Iranian citizen from an Iranian engineer, who some intelligence sources say may now be dead. The laptop contains designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small facility to produce uranium gas, a substance that could be enriched for fuel or nuclear weapons. The laptop also contains drawings relating to the retrofitting of the Shahab III. The laptop’s information, so extensive that some say it may have been designed by an entire team of engineers, will be given unsubstantiated confirmation from an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer, who will say that Iran took delivery of several advanced centrifuges that would greatly increase its nuclear knowledge. Although the documents are not verified, US intelligence considers them authentic.
Possible Forgeries - However, analysts admit it is possible that the documents are forgeries, perhaps from internal opponents of the Iranian government, or perhaps from the government itself in an attempt to convince Western intelligence agencies that its nuclear weapons program is still in an embryonic stage. The US denies that the documents were provided through the auspices of any Iranian dissident groups such as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [New York Times, 11/13/2005; Washington Post, 2/8/2006] The identity of the Iranian “walk-in” may be revealed four years later (see February 2007). By November 2004, administration officials begin to admit that they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 2004 and November 17-18, 2004).
The Guardian of London reports that Iran is preparing “to launch an oil trading market for Middle East and OPEC producers.” The Tehran oil bourse (French for “purse”, used to describe a financial transaction exchange system), to be opened in 2005, could give top oil producing nations in the region greater control of the oil trade, threatening the supremacy of world’s current major oil market exchanges, the London IPE and New York’s NYMEX. [Reuters, 5/15/2004; Guardian, 6/16/2004] Some observers believe oil at the new exchange would likely be traded in Euros. “From a purely economic and monetary perspective, a petroeuro system is a logical development given that the European Union imports more oil from OPEC producers than does the US, and the EU accounts for 45 percent of imports into the Middle East,” notes the Center for Research on Globalization. [Center for Research on Globalization, 10/27/2004]
The Supreme Court rules in the case of Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475), in which two organizations, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, are attempting to force the White House to reveal information about the secret deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see April 27, 2004). Neither side gets what it asks for in the 7-2 ruling, as the Court sends the case back to the US Court of Appeals for further adjudication, with an order for that court to take a second look at its ruling that Cheney must allow a judge to review the task force documents (see August 2, 2002). Five justices—Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens—vote to send the case back to the appeals court. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, vote to send the case all the way back to the original trial court, concurring with the majority. The Court’s two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote to resolve the matter entirely in Cheney’s favor. Judge Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, instructs the appeals court—and all other courts who might subsequently hear such a case—to use a legal standard far more aligned with the executive branch’s claim of immunity from disclosure. Courts must afford “presidential confidentiality the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice,” Kennedy writes, to protect the executive branch from being sued. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will later write that the Court may have avoided making a firm ruling because it did not want to wrangle with the issue of separation of powers, and the privilege of executive branch secrecy, in an election year. While most media and court observers call the decision a “punt” of little import, at least one, former Justice Department official Shannen Coffin, sees it differently. In a column for the National Review, Coffin celebrates the ruling, writing that due to “the vice president’s resolute assertion that he and the president should have the right to receive in confidence the advice necessary to the performance of their duties,” the White House has won a “major victory” in expanding its power to keep its procedures secret, regardless of the appeals court’s eventual ruling (see May 10, 2005). [National Review, 6/25/2004; FindLaw, 7/2/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 167-168] The appeals court will agree with Thomas and Scalia, and rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, Sierra Club, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Judicial Watch, Antonin Scalia, David Souter
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
The International Tax & Investment Centre (ITIC), a corporate lobby group that advocates for pro-business investment and tax reform, issues a major report titled Petroleum and Iraq’s Future: Fiscal Options and Challenges, expressing the view that Iraq’s relationships with oil companies should be managed through the use of production sharing agreements (PSAs). The paper calls PSAs the “simplest and most attractive regulatory… framework.” It says this view is supported by “international experience and regional preferences,” though critics of PSAs will note that PSAs are not in fact popular among the major oil producing countries of the Middle East. “It is difficult to overstate how radical a departure PSAs would be from normal practice, both in Iraq and in other comparable countries of the region,” says Greg Muttitt of PLATFORM, a British oil industry watchdog group. “Iraq’s oil industry has been in public hands since 1972; prior to that the rights to develop oil in 99.5 percent of the country had also been publicly held since 1961. In Iraq’s neighbors Kuwait, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, foreign control over oil development is ruled out by constitution or by national law. These countries together with Iraq are the world’s top four countries in terms of oil reserves, with 51 percent of the world total between them.”
The ITIC report also argues that foreign investment in Iraq’s oil sector will help “kick start” Iraq’s economy and free up funds for other programs. [Muttitt, 2005]
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf meet at the Roosevelt Inn in Manhattan for an India-Pakistan summit to discuss how relations between the two countries can be improved. During the discussions, they consider the possibility of the long proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project (see 1993). “Such a project could contribute to the welfare and prosperity of the people of both countries and should be considered in the larger context of expanding trade and economic relations between India and Pakistan,” they say in a joint statement. [Indo-Asian News Service, 9/24/2004; Associated Press, 9/24/2004]
China and Iran negotiate a $70-$100 billion deal that gives China’s state oil company a 51 percent stake in Iran’s Yadavaran oil field, located near the Iraq border. The Yadavaran oil field, once thought to be two separate oil fields (Koushk and Hosseinieh), contains more than 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a total reserve of 17 billion barrels. [China Daily, 11/8/2004; Washington Post, 11/17/2004] China agrees to purchase ten million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) annually for a 25-year period once Iran has constructed plants to liquefy the natural gas, a feat that could take more than five years. The amount could increase to as much as $200 billion if an oil deal, currently under negotiation, is also agreed upon by the two nations. [Persian Journal, 10/31/2004] As part of the deal, Sinopec, China’s state oil company, will have the right to exploit Iran’s Yadavaran oil field, located near the Iraq border, on a buy-back basis in cooperation with another major international oil company. The Yadavaran oil field contains more than 3 billion barrels of exploitable reserves and comprises the Koushk and Hosseinieh oil fields, “which were recently found to be connected at various layers, forming an oil field with a cumulative in-place reserve of 17 billion barrels,” the Chinese Daily reports. [China Daily, 11/8/2004] Iran is estimated to have a 26.6-trillion-cubic-meter gas reservoir, the second-largest in the world. About half of its reserves are located offshore. Some observers suggest that the Iran-China agreement could establish a precedent that opens the way for other nations to do business with Iran. The US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (ILSA), which penalizes foreign companies for investing more than $20 million in Iran’s oil and gas industry, has so far discouraged many companies from doing a large amount of business with the Islamic state. [Asia Times, 11/6/2005] Additionally, the Iran-China deal dramatically reduces the Bush administration’s leverage over Iran, as its threat to bring Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program is greatly weakened by the fact that China, as a permanent member, holds a veto at the council. [Washington Post, 11/17/2004]
Pakistani prime minister Shaukat Aziz meets with Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar in Delhi. Summarizing the meeting, Aiyar tells the press: “We did repeat what we have said earlier about using Pakistan as [a] transit corridor [for sourcing gas from Iran] creating mutual dependency [and]… we need to replicate such mutual dependency… in the wider trade and economic relationship between the two countries.” It has been reported that Washington is pressuring Pakistan not to enter into any sort of pipeline agreement with Iran. “The project, if it materializes, would also foreclose whatever prospects remain of the revival of the trans-Afghan pipeline project, which many still see as a raison d’etre of the US intervention in Afghanistan,” the Asian Times notes. [Asia Times, 1/11/2005]
According to a study done by Britain’s Royal Society, in 2005, ExxonMobil provides $2.9 million in funding to 39 groups that the society says misrepresent climate change. Such groups include the International Policy Network, George C. Marshall Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. [Guardian, 9/20/2006; New York Times, 9/21/2006]
In an interview with Greg Palast, Robert Ebel, a former Department of Energy and and CIA oil analyst, acknowledges that the invasion of Iraq was driven by oil interests. “The thought was, ‘Why are you going into Iraq? It’s about oil isn’t it?’ And my response was, ‘No, It’s about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The morning after, it’s about oil.’” [Democracy Now!, 3/21/2005]
In Delhi, the India government hosts the first-ever round-table of Asian oil ministers from the Persian Gulf, China and Southeast Asia. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanghaneh recommends creating an Asian Bank for Energy Development to finance energy projects in Asia, such as the long-proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project (see 1993). He also calls for lower prices for Asian energy supplies that are sold to Asian consumers. [Asia Times, 1/11/2005; World Peace Herald, 1/17/2005]
Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar announces that he has invited Iranian officials to visit Delhi to discuss the long proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas-pipeline project (see 1993). “A delegation from Iran will visit India on the eve of the Asian gas buyers’ summit commencing on February 14 to initiate negotiations on a term-sheet for the delivery of Iranian natural gas by pipeline at the India-Pakistan border,” he says. “Our anticipated demand in 2025 for gas would be 400 million standard cubic meters (mscm) per day. Our output today is less than 100 mscm per day. It is not possible to meet the incremental demand from domestic production…. [I]mport of LNG, and natural gas through [a] pipeline is needed to meet the demands of the growing economy.” [Asia Times, 1/11/2005]
India announces that it has agreed to a $40 billion deal with Iran. Under the terms of the agreement, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) will sell 5 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) annually to India over a 25-year period with the possibility of increasing the quantity to 7.5 million tons. India’s price will be computed at 0.065 of Brent crude average plus $1.2 with an upper ceiling of $31 per barrel. As part of the deal, India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) will participate in the development of Yadavaran, Iran’s largest oil field. India’s share in the oil field will be 20 percent, which translates into roughly 60,000 barrels per day of oil. Iran has retained a 30 percent stake while the Chinese state oil company Sinopec secured a 50 percent share in an agreement signed at the end of October (see October 29, 2004). India’s deal with Iran will also provide India with 100 percent of the rights in the 300,000-barrel-per-day Jufeir oilfield. [Asia Times, 1/11/2005; World Peace Herald, 1/17/2005] The agreement could give new impetus to the long proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project (see 1993). The Tehran Times, which is known to represent the views of the Iranian government, comments, “The Iran-India agreement on LNG exports will pave the way for the implementation of the project to pipe Iranian gas to India via Pakistan and the dream of the peace pipeline could become a reality in the near future.” [Asia Times, 1/11/2005]
ConocoPhillips reports record profits for its 2004 fourth quarter, over double the amount it posted twelve months before. Income from continuing operations rose to $2.5 billion compared with $985 million in 2003. The dramatic increase in profits is attributed to record high oil prices. [Marketwatch, 1/26/2005]
ExxonMobil reports $298 billion in revenue for 2004, claiming title as the world’s largest firm by revenue. Walmart, who held the number one position for 2003, generated $288 billion in 2004. The dramatic increase in revenue is attributed to record high oil prices. [Agence France-Presse, 2/1/2004; Knight Ridder, 2/12/2004]
President Hugo Chavez announces that the Venezuela controlled oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, may sell eight oil refineries owned by US companies. Four of them are owned by Citgo Corporation and are currently used to refine Venezuela’s heavy, high-sulfur crude oil for use in the US. This move is part of a strategy to reduce Venezuelan dependency on US oil markets. At his speech in Argentina, Hugo Chavez describes Venezuelan dependency: “Not one Venezuelan works at these refineries… they don’t give us one cent of profit… they don’t pay taxes in Venezuela… this is economic imperialism.” Ivan Orellana, Venezuela’s representative to OPEC says that any “contracts found to be not in the national interest would be renegotiated.” [Bloomberg, 2/2/2005] The Venezuelan oil industry currently exports half of its oil to the US. [New York Times, 1/25/2005] This latest move is an indication to the Bush administration that the Chavez government is willing to test their relationship. US officials are worried about the implications of the sale for the American economy as 15 percent of US oil imports currently come from Venezuela. White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, “we have serious concerns. We have made our concerns known when it comes to President Chavez….” [Bloomberg, 2/2/2005]
Shell Oil reports that its 2004 fourth-quarter net income rose 133 percent to $4.48 billion compared with the same period a year before. The dramatic increase in profits is attributed to record high oil prices. [Agence France-Presse, 1/26/2004]
Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, and Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh sign a nuclear fuel supply deal. Under the provisions of the agreement, Russia will supply Iran with uranium fuel for Iran’s Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant, which once complete will produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity. Iran will be required to return all of the spent fuel to Russia to prevent the possibility that some of it will be used to produce bomb-grade plutonium. According to Rumyantsev, the first batch of enriched uranium fuel is waiting in Siberia ready to be shipped. [Reuters, 2/27/2005; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2005] Russia’s more than $1 billion contract to build the reactor is said to have played a significant role in maintaining the strength of Russia’s nuclear energy industry. Russia, which has sent more than 2,000 workers to work with 3,000 Iranians at Bushehr, is keen on securing more contracts with the Iranian government. An additional 1,500 Russian specialists are scheduled to go to Bushehr soon to install more equipment. [Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2005]
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh signs a memorandum of understanding with his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro that Iran will build a $3 billion refinery in Indonesia. As part of the deal, Indonesia will receive 300,000 barrels per day of heavy crude and Tehran will get a 30 percent stake in PT Pertamina, Indonesia’s state oil company. National Iranian Oil Company and Pertamina will lead the four-year project, which Iran hopes will provide security for Iran’s market supply. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 3/16/2005; Bloomberg, 3/18/2005]
India’s petroleum and natural gas minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, announces that Pakistan has invited India to join them in talks, set for April 2005, with the Iranian government on a proposal to construct a natural gas pipeline from Iran to India. India is Asia’s third-largest energy user and has long awaited such an invitation to join the $4 billion, 2,775-kilometer pipeline project. [BBC, 2/5/2005; Bloomberg, 3/28/2005; Agence France-Presse, 3/28/2005]
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami personally accompanies about 30 journalists deep into the underground nuclear plant at Natanz, a uranium enrichment facility located 250 km (150 miles) south of Tehran. The group of foreign and local journalists is permitted to film and take video footage of the complex. Natanz is built more than 18 meters (54 feet) below ground due to “security problems.” The journalists are shown another facility in the city of Isfahan. “If we were looking to make atomic weapons, we could have completed these [facilities] in hiding,” Khatami tells the reporters. The gesture is viewed by many as an attempt to undermine support for a possible aerial attack by the United States or Israel. [Reuters, 3/30/2005]
Asian News International reports that according to official Pakistani sources the US government is reconsidering its opposition to the $4.2 billion dollar Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (see 1993). The Bush administration has been opposed to the proposed pipeline on grounds that it would help Iran, a potential target of future US military strikes. But since the consortium is hoping to involve US corporations, these companies are apparently putting pressure on the White House to back the pipeline. Without the approval of the US government, the companies would be barred from participating in the pipeline’s construction. According to sources, the US is considering pursuing a strategy that would leverage its possible support for the pipeline against Iran in its disagreement over the country’s nuclear program. [News (Islamabad), 4/2/2005]
In an 8-0 ruling, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals dismisses a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch asking that the court require information to be disclosed from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force from 2001 (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The US Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court (see April 27, 2004 and June 24, 2004). The appeals court ignores reports from the Government Accountability Office finding that energy executives and lobbyists took part in the task force deliberations (see After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001, and April 17, 2001), and accepts the government’s contentions that the executive branch should not be forced to disclose information about its workings to either the legislative or judicial branches. Because no evidence was submitted that showed the energy executives or lobbyists cast votes or exercised veto power over task force decisions, the court rules, the task force is not obligated to comply with federal laws mandating that such governmental working groups reveal details of their deliberations. The executives and lobbyists are essentially no different than staff aides, the court finds. Cheney’s energy task force was not an advisory committee, and therefore “the government owed the plaintiffs no duty, let alone a clear and indisputable or compelling one,” says the court’s opinion. The court applies the Supreme Court’s standard of law as recommended in the case, a standard far more favorable to the executive branch than any previously applied in the case. Several of the appellate judges will later say that they took the Court ruling to mean that the judiciary should not be involved in a legal struggle with the executive branch. The ruling allows Cheney to keep the task force documents secret, and says that the task force is not bound by the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA). [Associated Press, 5/10/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 176]
'Double Blow' - David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, says, “The decision is not going to be helpful in assuring open and accountable government.” [Sierra Club, 5/15/2005] He says the ruling is a double blow: “As a policy matter, we see the Bush administration has succeeded in its efforts to keep secret how industry crafted the administration’s energy policy. As a legal matter, it’s a defeat for efforts to have open government and for the public to know how their elected officials are conducting business.” Judicial Watch official Chris Farrell will later say the ruling leaves the open-government laws “a hollow shell.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 176] The New York Times calls the decision “regrettable,” and observes, “The Bush administration hardly needs encouragement to deny public access to vital government information.” [New York Times, 5/15/2005]
Rejected Judicial Precedent - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The decision relied entirely upon the assertion of two Cheney aides that the lobbyists had not cast any votes, a claim no judge ever verified by looking at the records. The court’s ruling also dismissed arguments that ‘influential participation’ by outsiders made them de facto members of the task force whether or not they cast votes, rejecting the standard the courts had applied to the 1994 Clinton health care task force.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 176]
Representatives from Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan meet in Tehran as part of an effort to resolve territorial disputes concerning oil and gas exploitation in the Caspian Sea. During the meeting, Iran’s special representative for the Caspian Sea Affairs, Mehdi Safari, says that Iran is opposed to the militarization of the Caspian region. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 5/16/2005]
India’s Ministry of External Affairs, known as South Block, produces a report on the potential legal implications of going ahead with the long-proposed $4.3 billion Iran-Pakistan-India gas-pipeline project (see 1993). The report warns that India could get slapped with sanctions by the US under the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. South Block says activities that lead to annual investments of over $40 million and directly increase Iran’s ability to develop its oil and gas resources may trigger sanctions from the US. But South Block also notes in its report that Turkey, Britain, the Netherlands, and Japan all invested in Iran’s hydrocarbon sector after the Act went into force and did not attract sanctions. The European Union and Canada have both challenged the law and Iran has called the law “inadmissible intervention in its internal and external affairs.” [US Congress, 8/5/1996; Indian Express, 5/21/2005]
The $4 billion US-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline officially opens. The pipeline begins in Baku, Azerbaijan and travels 1,762 km (1,000 miles) through Georgia to the Mediterranean port city of Ceyhan in Turkey. The pipeline has been under construction for ten years and was built by a consortium of oil companies including Amerada Hess, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Inpex, Itochu, Statoil, Total, SOCAR, TPAO, Unocal, and BP. The pipeline is expected to bring one million barrels of oil per day to the West. [Institution, 3/4/2003; BBC, 5/5/2005; BBC, 5/25/2005]
Entity Tags: Unocal, British Petroleum, TPAO, SOCAR, Total, Eni, ConocoPhillips, Amerada Hess, Inpex, Itochu, Statoil
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Peak Oil
A delegation from India visits Pakistan to discuss cooperation in the oil and gas sectors. The 11-person delegation is headed by Indian Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Mani Shankar Aiyar. The two countries agree to establish a working group to review the legal, technical, commercial, and financial parameters of the proposed Iran-India-Pakistan gas pipeline (see 1993 and January 27, 2003) that would transport natural gas 2,775 km from Iran to India via Pakistan. They plan to start the project by December 31, 2005. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 6/5/2005; Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005] At a press conference on June 6, Aiyar is asked about US concerns expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March (see March 19, 2005) that the pipeline would strengthen Iran. Aiyar responds that construction of the pipeline is contigent only upon an agreement being made between India and Pakistan. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005] India and Pakistan also discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline (see January 18, 2005), which they agree should extend to India. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005; Associated Press, 6/5/2005] The delegation also explores the possibility of exporting Indian diesel to Pakistan. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 6/5/2005]
Iran downplays the significance of the opening of the US-backed $4 billion dollar Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline (see May 25, 2005) that will carry oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean port city of Ceyhan, Turkey. The project was supported by the US government, which believes the pipeline will weaken Iran’s leverage over the distribution of oil. Mahmood Khagani, director for Caspian Sea Oil and Gas Affairs in Iran’s petroleum ministry, says the project makes little economic sense. “Iran’s route is the shortest, cheapest, and potentially the most lucrative,” he says. [Agence France-Presse, 6/9/2005]
India’s Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar says that Iran has agreed to research the possibility of extending the proposed 2,670 km Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (see 1993) to China. [PakTribune (Islamabad), 6/13/2005]
At the Asia Oil and Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Natik al-Bayati, director general of Iraq’s Oil Exploration Company, tells reporters that Iraqi officials are hoping that foreign oil companies will return to Iraq and begin working by the third quarter of 2006. “Hopefully by the first quarter of 2006 the companies will come back. Maybe by mid-year or the third quarter [of 2006]. This is what we have in mind,” he says. He explains that the objective is to increase production to 3.5 million-4 million barrels per day by 2010. To meet this goal, Iraq’s exploration sector will need between $15 billion and $20 billion, he says. [International Oil Daily, 6/15/2005] Iraq will have to begin negotiating with the oil companies this year in order to make that deadline. As one observer notes, this would be taking place “before a legitimate Iraqi government is elected and in parallel with the writing of a Petroleum Law. This time frame means that contracts will be negotiated without public participation or debate, or proper legal framework.” [Muttitt, 2005]
The National Iranian Gas Company announces the awarding of a $2.2 billion contract to construct a gas refinery in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan to a consortium headed by the British construction firm Costain Oil, Gas & Process (COGAP). [Costain, 6/24/2005 ; Forbes, 6/24/2005]
The US House of Representatives approves House Resolution 344 (H.Res.344) with a 398 to 15 vote urging President Bush to block the proposed takeover of Unocal Oil by the Chinese National Overseas Oil Company (CNOOC Ltd) on the grounds of national security. CNOOC has bid $18.5 billion for Unocal against a $16.5 billion bid by Chevron. In a written statement, China’s foreign ministry says, “CNOOC’s bid to take over the US Unocal company is a normal commercial activity between enterprises and should not fall victim to political interference.” [Washington Post, 7/4/2005] Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) warns that the “Chinese would also be advantaged by such a transaction because it would extend their military and economic reach in such a way that could potentially impact… [US] involvement in East Asia.” [Office of Representatives Duncan Hunter, 7/1/2005]
Congress passes the Energy Policy Act (EPA) of 2005. The EPA is the product of the secret Cheney energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The act provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks for corporate energy providers, primarily oil, coal, and nuclear power companies. It contains an array of odd and obscure provisions helping industrialists, many generated by the lobbyists and corporate executives who helped craft the bill (see May 10, 2005). It does nothing to discourage consumption by raising fuel efficiency standards, and does little to address the sharply rising price of oil. What it does, primarily, is give huge financial and regulatory breaks to the energy industry. [Savage, 2007, pp. 360]
Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick tells reporters that if China continues to pursue energy contracts with Iran it will find itself increasingly in conflict with the United States. He adds that it isn’t clear whether the force behind China’s dealmaking comes from new Chinese oil companies or some government “strategic plan.” He also asserts that China will not be able to guarantee its energy security through contracts with countries such as Iran “because you can’t lock up energy resources” in the global marketplace. [Reuters, 9/6/2005]
During a news conference in Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urges China, Russia, and India to support US threats of imposing sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programs. Iran needs to get a “unified message,” she says. “I think that after the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report a couple of days ago, it is clear that Iran is not living up to its obligations, and so UN Security Council referral seems to be a reasonable option.” [US Department of State, 9/9/2005; BBC, 9/10/2005]
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors passes a resolution declaring Iran in non-compliance with its safeguard obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The resolution calls on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activity, cease construction on a heavy water research reactor, and provide agency inspectors access to research and development locations and documentation. The resolution also calls on Iran to “[p]romptly… ratify and implement in full the Additional Protocol,” which would require Iran to allow short-notice inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. [International Atomic Energy Agency. Board of Governors, 9/24/2005 ] Iran has signed but not ratified it. [Washington Post, 9/27/2005] If Iran fails to comply with this resolution, the board could decide at its next meeting in November to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. A referral to the Security Council would set the stage for the possible imposition of sanctions on Iran. Iran has repeatedly stated that it will not relinquish its right under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The resolution, sponsored by Britain, France, and Germany, passes with 22 votes. Twelve countries abstain, including Russia, China, Pakistan, South Africa and Brazil, and only one—Venezuela—opposes the resolution. India, under strong pressure from the US (see September 10, 2005), backs the resolution, despite its close ties to Iran. The resolution marks the third time in two decades that an IAEA resolution has not been approved unanimously. [BBC, 9/25/2005; Associated Press, 9/25/2005; Washington Post, 9/25/2005; Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005] Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki calls the resolution “politically motivated, illegal, and illogical,” asserting that the “three European countries implemented a planned scenario already determined by the United States.” [Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005]
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council spokesman, Ali Aghamohammadi, says that Iran has no intention of withdrawing from a multi-billion dollar deal to sell natural gas to India. There have been rumors that Iran, upset over India’s support of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution declaring Iran in breach of its Safeguard Agreements (see September 24, 2005), had informed India the deal was in jeopardy. “We have had good, deep relations with India in many fields and regional affairs and their behavior at the IAEA was strange and we didn’t expect them to vote against Iran,” he says. Nonetheless, “We don’t want to review our current relations with India and their vote against Iran doesn’t affect the gas project.” [BBC, 9/28/2005]
A report authored by Greg Muttitt of PLATFORM concludes that Iraq would not benefit from an oil policy based on production sharing agreements (PSAs). According to Muttitt, the PSAs would cost Iraq “hundreds of billions of dollars in potential revenue,” while oil company profits would see annual rates of return “ranging from 42 percent to 62 percent for a small field, or 98 percent to 162 percent for a large field.” Muttitt’s study also warns that PSAs would result in Iraqis forfeiting control of their oil industry to foreign oil companies. For example, Iraq would lose its ability to control the depletion rate of its own oil resources. “As an oil-dependent country, the depletion rate is absolutely key to Iraq’s development strategy, but would be largely out of the government’s control,” Muttitt notes. Furthermore, PSAs, which typically have fixed terms of between 25 and 40 years, often include “stabilization clauses” that grant oil companies immunity from all future laws, regulations, and government policies. If Iraq were to sign such PSAs, future Iraqi governments would be unable to change tax rates or laws regulating labor standards, workplace safety, or the environment. PSA agreements also tend to put the host government at a disadvantage when there is a dispute with the contracted oil company. Most PSAs stipulate that disputes must be resolved in international arbitration tribunals where they are generally presided over by corporate lawyers and trade negotiators who will only consider narrow commercial issues without regard to Iraqi public interest. Muttitt’s report argues that Iraq has several options for developing its oil industry that would be far more beneficial to Iraq than relying on PSAs. One option would be for Iraq to hire specialist companies under short-term technical service contracts to provide expertise only when native expertise is lacking. There is no reason, Muttitt notes, for Iraq to give oil companies full control over the industry when Iraq has a highly-skilled oil sector workforce that is fully capable of managing the country’s oil production. All that’s needed, he says, is for them to receive training on the latest technologies. Until that is achieved, Iraq would be adequately served with a policy based on short-term technical service contracts. Muttitt also argues that Iraq has several options for acquiring the needed capital to jump start the oil sector. Foreign investment is neither the only, nor the most attractive solution for Iraq. He argues that using Iraqi money or borrowing funds would save Iraq billions of dollars in the long term. [Muttitt, 2005]
Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi deputy prime minister and former chair of the country’s Energy Council, says, “In order to make major quantum increases in oil, we need to have production sharing agreements, but that has to wait until after the formation of parliament.” [Reuters, 11/22/2005; Inter Press Service, 11/23/2005]
A White House document shows that oil company executives lied in recent Senate hearings when they denied meeting with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. The document, obtained by the Washington Post, shows that officials from ExxonMobil, Conoco (before it merged with Phillips), Shell Oil, and British Petroleum met with the task force (see March 22, 2001). Last week, the CEOs of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips denied participating in the task force’s deliberations. Shell Oil’s CEO said his company did not participate “to my knowledge,” and the chief of BP America said he did not know. Though Chevron is not named in the White House document, that firm and others “gave detailed energy policy recommendations” to the task force, according to the Government Accountability Office. Cheney also met separately with John Browne, BP’s chief executive, in a meeting not included in the document. Environmentalists have long stated that they were almost entirely shut out of the deliberations, while corporate interests were heavily represented (see April 4, 2001). The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the government could keep the records of the task force secret (see June 24, 2004). Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says, “The White House went to great lengths to keep these meetings secret, and now oil executives may be lying to Congress about their role in the Cheney task force.” Since the oil executives were not under oath—a decision by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) protested by committee Democrats—they cannot be charged with perjury. However, they can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation” to Congress. After the Washington Post releases the document, former Conoco manager Alan Huffman confirms, “We met [with the task force] in the Executive Office Building, if I remember correctly.” A ConocoPhillips spokesman says that CEO James Mulva had been unaware of the meetings when he testified at the hearing. ExxonMobil says it stands by CEO Lee Raymond’s denials; James Rouse, an Exxon official named in the document (see Mid-February, 2001), denies meeting with the task force, calling the document “inaccurate.” [Washington Post, 11/16/2005]
Entity Tags: Frank R. Lautenberg, Ted Stevens, Chevron, British Petroleum, Alan Huffman, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch/Shell, US Supreme Court, National Energy Policy Development Group, Government Accountability Office, James Mulva, ConocoPhillips, John Browne, Lee Raymond, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Rouse
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record
Nicaraguan presidential candidate Daniel Ortega strikes a deal with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that will allow an alliance of 51 Nicaraguan mayors, many from the Sandinista party, to purchase 10 million barrels of Venezuelan fuel on preferential terms. Under the agreement, the mayors will pay 60 percent of the cost of their purchases within 90 days of shipment, with the remaining 40 percent payable over the next 25 years at one percent interest, with a two-year grace period. In Nicaragua, high oil prices have led to rolling blackouts and transportation strikes. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 4/26/2006; Associated Press, 5/5/2006] Chavez says Venezuela will also donate 10,000 tons of urea to Sandinista farming organizations. [Associated Press, 5/5/2006] During Ortega’s visit to Venezuela, he also says (see April or May 2006) that if he wins the November 5 elections, he will make sure Nicaragua joins the Alternativa Bolivariana para la America (ALBA), or the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which was initiated by Venezuela and Cuba in 2005.
Following the release of the film, An Inconvenient Truth, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a group funded in part by ExxonMobil, launches an advertisement campaign welcoming increased carbon dioxide pollution. “Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution, we call it life,” the ad says. [Competitive Enterprise Institute, 5/2006; New York Times, 9/21/2006]
A study completed by Canada’s Round Table on the Environment and the Economy concludes that Canada is capable of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 60 percent by 2050 using existing technologies. Achieving this goal would require designing all cars, trucks, appliances, and buildings for greater efficiency. Coal power-plants would use clean technology and carbon sequestration systems would be installed across the country. It would also require expanding nuclear power by more than 50 percent, something that would be met with resistance by environmentalists because of the dangers posed by the disposal of nuclear waste. The study’s predictions are based on the assumption of a growing economy (100 percent increase), a national population of 45 million (100 percent increase), continued use of cars and trucks, and the expansion of Canada’s east-west electricity grid. The study also says that implementing a plan for the drastic reduction of energy use would create new market opportunities. “We’re saying that if these things are done intelligently, there is likely to be some substantial market opportunities,” says Alex Wood, an analyst with the round table. [Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, 6/2006 ; Canadian Press, 6/21/2006; Toronto Star, 6/22/2006]
US Southern Command concludes in an internal report that efforts in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia to nationalize their petroleum industries pose a threat to US energy supplies. “Pending any favorable changes to the investment climate, the prospects for long-term energy production in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Mexico are currently at risk,” the report says. This assessment is based on the view that extending state control over oil supplies “will likely increase inefficiencies and… will hamper efforts to increase long-term supplies and production.” Energy from the region accounts for 30 percent of US energy imports. Commenting on the report, Colonel Joe Nunez, professor of strategy at the US Army War College in Carlisle, says that it is “incumbent upon the command to contemplate beyond strictly military matters.” [Financial Times, 1/26/2006]
Britain’s top scientific body, the 1,400-member Royal Society, demands in a letter to ExxonMobil that it end its support for groups that spread misinformation about global warming. In 2005, the company gave 39 such groups a total of $2.9 million (see 2005). The letter accuses the oil giant of having “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence.” According to the Society, the company’s statements on the issue have been “inaccurate and misleading.” In particular, the letter strongly criticises the company’s “corporate citizenship reports,” which insist that “gaps in the scientific basis” undermine arguments that climate change is anthropogenic. The letter states that there is a “false sense somehow that there is a two-sided debate going on in the scientific community” concerning the causes of climate change. While “thousands and thousands” of international scientists agree that climate change is linked to greenhouse gases, ExxonMobil’s assertions rely on the views of just “one or two professional contrarians.” In response, ExxonMobil says the letter “inaccurately and unfairly described [the] company” and adds that it stopped funding one such group, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, earlier in the year. [Royal Society, 9/4/2006 ; Guardian, 9/20/2006; New York Times, 9/21/2006]
The International Atomic Energy Agency is skeptical of the claim that Iran has made further progress in its uranium enrichment research program (see Mid-November, 2006). However, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defiant tone does nothing to lessen US suspicions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A European diplomat says: “There is no evidence of a large-scale covert enrichment program inside Iran. But the Iranians would not have launched themselves into a very dangerous confrontation with the West on the basis of a weapons program that they no longer pursue. Their enrichment program makes sense only in terms of wanting nuclear weapons. It would be inconceivable if they weren’t cheating to some degree. You don’t need a covert program to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We have enough information to be concerned without one. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s close to it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces that Iran has made further progress in its uranium enrichment research program. He says, “We know that some countries may not be pleased,” and although he insists Iran is abiding by international agreements, he adds, “Time is now completely on the side of the Iranian people.” In a recent meeting with a former senior administration official, Ahmadinejad questioned the US’s right to tell it that it could not enrich uranium. “Why doesn’t America stop enriching uranium?” he asked, and added, laughing, “We’ll enrich it for you and sell it to you at a fifty-per-cent discount.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006] The IAEA is skeptical of the claim (see Mid-November 2006), and experts have alternative explanations for the claim (see Mid-November, 2006).
The White House finally releases a list of officials and organizations who met with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. Cheney and the White House have successfully battled for six years to keep virtually all details of the task force secret (see May 10, 2005), and many other documents and files pertaining to the task force remain secret. The list of participants confirms what many have always suspected—that oil, gas, and energy executives and lobbyists were virtually the only ones to have any input in the task force’s policy deliberations. Many of the participants were also heavy donors to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and to the Republican Party in general.
Secrecy - Some participants say they were never sure why the White House fought so hard to keep the information about the task force secret. “I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret,” says Charles A. Samuels, a lawyer for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings—exactly what should take place.” Others say that their meetings with the task force were routine.
API Input - American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney says that when he met with the task force, he and his fellow API officials discussed position papers the organization had given to the Bush-Cheney campaign and to newly elected members of Congress. “We’re in the business of routinely providing advocacy materials,” Cavaney says. “Speaking for myself, I had zero hand in authoring or sitting with anyone from that task force and changing anything.” But Cavaney is seriously downplaying API’s influence (see March 20, 2001).
"Ridiculous" - Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who has been a driving force behind the effort to reveal the inner workings of the task force to the public, says it is it is “ridiculous” that it has taken six years to see who attended the meetings. He describes the energy task force as an early indicator of “how secretively Vice President Cheney wanted to act.” As to the makeup of the participants, Waxman is not surprised to see the dominance of energy industry groups in the meetings. “Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet,” he says. Climate expert David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council says: “Cheney had his finger on a critical issue. He just pushed it in the wrong direction.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Bush administration (43), Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, Charles A. Samuels, Henry A. Waxman, Natural Resources Defense Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Hawkins, Red Cavaney
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Alan Greenspan, the former head of the US Federal Reserve, charges in his newly published memoir that the US invasion of Iraq was largely driven by the Bush administration’s desire to control Iraq’s oil reserves. Greenspan says in his book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, that he is “saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows—the Iraq war is largely about oil.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2007; Sunday Times (London), 9/16/2007] In subsequent interviews with the press, though, Greenspan has backed off of his assertion a bit. Iraq’s oil was “not the administration’s motive,” he now says, and goes on to say that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was essential for the US’s economic stability. “I’m just saying that if somebody asked me, ‘Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?’ I would say it was essential.” He adds, “I have never heard them basically say, ‘We’ve got to protect the oil supplies of the world,’ but that would have been my motive.” He says he made that argument to White House officials, and one of them told him, “Well, unfortunately, we can’t talk about oil.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2007] Greenspan says he advocated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not because of weapons of mass destruction, but because he was convinced Hussein wanted to control the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil passes. That would enable Hussein to threaten the US and its allies, a situation Greenspan found untenable. [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/17/2007] “Iraq was a far greater threat than Iran to the world scene,” he says. [New York Times, 9/17/2007] Greenspan says he believed Hussein should go, but not necessarily through military action. “I wasn’t arguing for war per se. [But] to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do and essential, but I never saw Plan B”—an alternative to war. In August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, a National Security Presidential Directive signed by Bush stated as one of the objectives of the invasion was “to minimize disruption in international oil markets.” Greenspan says, “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first Gulf War. And the second Gulf War is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day” passing through. Disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could have translated into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel, Greenspan now says, and that would have triggered “chaos” in the global economy. Ousting Hussein achieved the purpose of “making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2007]
Nofa Khadduri, an Iraqi peace activist now studying at the University of Toronto, writes an op-ed for the Arabic news network al-Jazeera that terms the Iraq war, and the subsequent occupation, “corporate genocide.” Khadduri writes: “I cannot say this is a war like any other, or even that it is a just war. This war has been too long, too painful, too costly, too evil, too inhumane, and too unjust to simply be deemed an invasion, or even worse, a liberation.… I want this war to be recognized for what it truly is—a genocide against the Iraqi people. It is a corporate hate crime. It is not a ‘just’ war. It does not have a ‘just’ cause. It lacks legitimate authority, it was executed with all the wrong intentions, it was certainly not a last resort, the probability of success was slim.… If the international community recognizes the conflicts in Bosnia, Armenia, and Rwanda as genocides where human rights are replaced with the extermination of ethnic groups, then Iraq deserves the same recognition—and more.”
'Corporate Genocide' in Iraq - Khadduri explains the term “corporate genocide” as something new and horrifyingly different. “Corporate genocide is the mass cooperation of a business-led military invasion, where a population is sacrificed for the economic profit of the invader. A corporate genocide goes beyond blind hate and killing innocent civilians to gain power and territory. In pursuing its economic strategies, the US has caused the death and injury, deliberate or not, of millions of Iraqis.… Foreign businesses that profit and thrive on war have gained new power in Iraq, but lack accountability. Private security firms have little motivation to promote peace—though it is their job—and to end this genocide. Terrorizing my people puts bread in their mouths and takes it away from the mouths of starving Iraqi children. Our war is their income. To keep the money flowing, private security firms dehumanize Iraqi resistance and rebel groups by labeling them as terrorists. The international propagation of this portrayal is one element in the structuring of a corporate genocide. Another is the inability of neither international law nor the international community to hold these firms accountable for their actions, including their killings of innocent people. Individuals perceived to be a threat to the firm are treated as such and can be disposed of under the false guise of an attack, leaving the firms unaccountable. And because these firms have power, they can easily deny misusing it and be believed, if they admit to using it at all.”
Pretense of Democracy, Humanitarian Aid - Khadduri writes that the US has achieved little towards implementing democracy in Iraq. It has assuaged little of the suffering caused by the invasion and occupation, and the subsequent civil war raging in parts of the country. This, he writes, is not a failure of US policy, but an effect of the policy. “Iraqi natural resources are being distributed and scattered among the most powerful corporations, with very little profit earmarked towards the rebuilding of Iraq,” he writes. “This is what the corporate genocide is about. There is much debate about whether Iraq can stand on its own after the departure of the US Army. But it is crucial to keep in mind that the US never held Iraq up as a country and it never helped Iraqis come together as a nation.”
Leaving Iraq to Shape Its Own Future - The US will never impose its own form of government on Iraq, Khadduri asserts, stating: “I said it five years ago and repeat it now: a Western-style democracy cannot be forced on a nation that does not welcome it. To not believe that we, the Iraqi people, will establish a form of government that we see fit for our needs, by ourselves, is an insult to the Iraqi solidarity and historical heritage that has always, continues to, and will never cease to exist.” [Al-Jazeera, 3/18/2008]
Halliburton Co agrees to pay a $559 million fine to end an investigation of its former KBR subsidiary if the US government approves the settlement. KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root, has long been accused of violating anti-bribery laws by paying kickbacks to Nigerian officials in return for “sweetheart deals” involving Nigeria’s oil and natural gas fields. The fine, if paid, will be the largest penalty in history against a US company for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA); the settlement would allow Halliburton to avoid having a government monitor put in place, but would require the company to hire an independent consultant to assess its compliance with anti-bribery laws. Halliburton would pay $382 million to the Department of Justice and $177 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission in “disgorgement.” KBR, which has become independent of Halliburton since the incidents in question, refuses to comment on the settlement. The government’s probe of Halliburton/KBR goes back over 20 years, to the construction and expansion of a gas liquefaction facility at Bonny Island, Nigeria. Halliburton has admitted that its agents probably bribed Nigerian officials, and former KBR CEO Albert Stanley has already pled guilty to charges stemming from the Bonny Island bribery scheme. Former Vice President Dick Cheney was Stanley’s immediate supervisor when Cheney was CEO of Halliburton. [Reuters, 1/26/2009]
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
$4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
$6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
$6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
$2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
$5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
$3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” [CNET News, 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]
An opinion column posted in Yale Environment 360, a publication by Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, calls for the US to “dramatically accelerate the development of clean energy technology.” Authors Mark Muro, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, and Teryn Norris, a project director at the Breakthrough Institute, echo the words of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, who has called for “Nobel-level” breakthroughs and a “second industrial revolution” in clean energy technology to overcome what they term “the world’s interlinked energy and climate challenges.” Muro and Norris write: “To renew the US economy, respond to global climate change, foster the nation’s energy security, and help provide the energy necessary to sustainably power global development, America must transform its outdated energy policy. Innovation and its commercialization must move to the center of energy system reform. The nation must move urgently to develop and harness a portfolio of clean energy sources that are affordable enough to deploy on a mass scale throughout the US and the world. In short, we must make clean energy cheap.” Muro and Norris propose the creation of a series of “renewable energy research hubs,” also called “energy discovery-innovation institutes,” or e-DIIs, funded with a combination of federal, state, university, and private funds. These e-DIIs would, they write, “take the lead in accelerating the development of reasonably priced alternative energy technologies and bringing them to the marketplace.” E-DIIs in different regions would focus on different technologies, they write. Institutes in the Southwest might focus on solar technologies, while institutes in the Great Lakes might focus on advanced battery technologies or hydrogen fuel cells, and institutes in the Great Plains might work on developing sustainable sources of biofuels. Muro and Norris envision successful institutes garnering as much as $6 billion a year in funding, while producing breakthroughs in a variety of renewable energy technologies. By the 2040s, global energy demands are expected to triple from current energy needs, while global greenhouse gases must be reduced by up to 85 percent to avert what the authors call “disruptive climate change.” Nations emerging into the community of developed nations, such as China, India, and Brazil, will lead the demand for additional energy, and will turn to increased use of fossil fuels if cheap and viable renewable energy platforms are not readily available to them. Muro and Norris write: “[I]n the absence of similarly affordable and large-scale clean energy sources, the nations of the developing world will turn to coal and other fossil fuels to power their development, just as we in the United States have done. And that would virtually assure massive climatic destabilization, regardless of what occurs in the developed nations of the world.” Market-based solutions such as carbon taxes and cap-and-tax policies do not do enough to spur renewable energy development, the authors contend. They conclude: “In important ways, the energy innovation institute concept represents a contemporary adaptation of the research paradigm created through the land-grant acts passed by Congress in the 19th century. Then, federal investments established a network of university-based agricultural and engineering experiment stations, augmented by extension services capable of interacting directly with the marketplace. That program was instrumental in developing and deploying the technologies necessary to build a modern industrial nation for the 20th century, while stimulating local economic growth. Today, the US needs a similarly bold campaign to enlist America’s universities, laboratories, and companies in solving one of the most complex and important problems—the transition to a clean-energy economy—that the nation has ever faced.” [Yale Environment 360, 4/30/2009; Breakthrough Institute, 4/30/2009]
The Australian government announces it will invest $4.5 billion ($3.4 billion in US dollars) in developing the infrastructure necessary to generate energy from solar and wind power, and to reduce carbon emissions. It will also invest in low-emission coal technologies and in large-scale solar electricity generation projects. $465 million goes to a new governmental organization, “Renewables Australia,” intended to lead development in renewable energy research, development, and deployment. The investment plans go against years of Australian governmental policy that forbid spending funds on building clean energy infrastructure. [Breakthrough Institute, 5/18/2009]
The federal government sets a fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon or more for all cars and trucks sold in the US by 2016. The rationale is that raising the fuel efficiency standards will increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The measure is projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil between 2012 and 2016, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 900 million metric tons. The measure goes into effect in 2012. President Obama says: “In the past, an agreement such as this would have been considered impossible. That is why this announcement is so important, for it represents not only a change in policy in Washington, but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington. As a result of this agreement, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. And at a time of historic crisis in our auto industry, this rule provides the clear certainty that will allow these companies to plan for a future in which they are building the cars of the 21st century.” The policy was developed in a collaboration between the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s major auto manufacturers, the United Auto Workers, environmental organizations, the State of California, and other state governments. EPA head Lisa P. Jackson says: “The president brought all stakeholders to the table and came up with a plan to help the auto industry, safeguard consumers, and protect human health and the environment for all Americans. A supposedly ‘unsolvable’ problem was solved by unprecedented partnerships. As a result, we will keep Americans healthier, cut tons of pollution from the air we breathe, and make a lasting down payment on cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.” Carol Browner, Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change, says: “A clear and uniform national policy is not only good news for consumers who will save money at the pump, but this policy is also good news for the auto industry which will no longer be subject to a costly patchwork of differing rules and regulations. This an incredible step forward for our country and another way for Americans to become more energy independent and reduce air pollution.” Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign, an organization which for two decades has advocated tougher mileage and emissions standards, says: “This is a very big deal. This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” The measure is based in part on a 2007 application by California to put its emissions standards in effect, an application rejected by the Bush administration. The measure complements fuel efficiency guidelines set by the Department of Energy in January 2009. [White House, 5/19/2009; New York Times, 5/19/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]
The Center for American Progress releases a study that shows how economically viable a transition from the US’s current dependence on carbon-intensive and fossil fuels to a clean energy economy can be. Making this transition is a necessity, the study says, due to “global climate change due to rising carbon emissions” forcing the US to “dramatically cut its consumption of traditional fossil fuels, the primary source of carbon dioxide (CO2) delivered into our atmosphere by human activity.” The transition must achieve three interrelated goals:
Dramatically increasing energy efficiency;
Dramatically lowering the cost of supplying energy from such renewable sources of energy as solar, wind, and biomass; and
Mandating limits and then establishing a price on pollution from the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas.
According to the study, a dramatic decrease in CO2 emissions can be achieved alongside an increase in employment opportunities, individual incomes, and economic growth. The authors of the study say their work is done within the parameters of two government initiatives: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA—see February 2009) and the proposed American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACESA), which remains to be passed by Congress. Taken together, the authors claim, the two measures can generate roughly $150 billion per year in new clean-energy investments in the United States over the next decade. Most of this new spending will be undertaken by the private sector, the authors say, triggered by the ARRA and the yet-to-be-passed ACESA, and will, they predict, create some 1.7 million new jobs that will be sustained if the spending continues year after year. That job gain would drop the unemployment rate about one percent, “even after taking into full account the inevitable job losses in conventional fossil fuel sectors of the US economy as they contract.” The authors say the clean energy program would do a great deal to combat the recession. The program would rely on three elements:
Regulations aimed at promoting clean energy;
A mandated cap on carbon emissions that will be phased in through 2050; and
Measures designed to help businesses, communities, and individuals successfully manage the transition to a clean-energy economy.
The authors conclude: “To be sure, any economic modeling effort that estimates changes in employment growth, economic growth, and income growth will result in forecasts that are problematic by nature. We make this clear in our paper wherever we rely on our own economic models and those employed by others. But we also take pains to examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of all the modeling approaches—including our own. This enables us to cross check our own conclusions with those of other researchers to reach the most reliable possible understanding of the overall impact of advancing a clean-energy agenda within the US economy.” [Center for American Progress, 6/18/2009; Robert Pollin, James Heintz, and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, 6/18/2009 ]
One of the most active investors in clean energy technology, venture fund manager Vinod Khosla, says he has raised $1 billion for two funds, much of the money from outside investors, that will be used primarily to fund cleantech startup businesses. One firm joining Khosla in the investment is CalPERS, the California pension fund, which intends to invest $60 million into an early-stage clean technology fund. Khosla Ventures is also being joined by former Facebook executive Gideon Yu; former fund manager Jim Kim, who also has a background in clean technology; and Pierre Lamond, the co-founder of National Semiconductor and a partner at Sequoia Capital. [GigaOm, 9/1/2009]
Billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros says he plans to invest over $1 billion in clean energy technology. Soros is well known for his donations to liberal and progressive causes (see January - November 2004 and February 2007), but has not been prominent in the field of clean energy until now. The online magazine GigaOm reports that Soros’s decision is “another proof point that cleantech has emerged during the recession as one of the few sectors worth investing in.” Clean energy technology, propelled by investments by venture fund manager Vinod Khosla (see September 1, 2009), was the leading investment category in the US in the third quarter of 2009. Soros tells a conference audience in Copenhagen, “I will look for profitable opportunities, but I will also insist that the investments make a real contribution to solving the problem of climate change.” He also intends to start a watchdog group called the Climate Policy Initiative that will, he says, “protect the public interest against special interests.” [GigaOm, 10/12/2009]
David White, who chairs the Energy Practice Group at Oregon’s Tonkon Corporation, writes in the Portland, Oregon, Daily Journal of Commerce about a pilot program going into effect that affects Oregon solar energy users. The Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) is starting a program that White says “offers a promising alternative to more traditional financing of solar projects.” Traditionally, solar projects in Oregon have been financed with a combination of state business energy tax credits (BETCs), incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO), federal tax credits, and credits from the utility based on the energy produced by the solar facility but not used by the customer. The BETCs are set to expire in 2012, thusly the new program offers new incentives for solar energy producers. White writes: “Under the pilot program, solar owners will be able to sell the energy they produce back to the utility at rates more than five times retail electricity rates. They also will be eligible for federal tax credits, but not BETCs or ETO incentives. The program is geared primarily to small (less than 10 kilowatt) and medium-sized (10 kilowatt to 100 kilowatt) solar producers, but systems of up to 500 kilowatts will qualify. That’s pretty big when you think of two acres covered with solar panels.” Net metering will be an option for systems generating 100 kilowatts or less, essentially allowing those producers to receive monthly credits equal to the electricity they generate. Solar producers can even sell excess energy to the utility at market rates. White acknowledges that the reception to the program has been mixed. Supporters say similar programs in Germany made that country the world’s largest solar energy producer; critics say the program has limited capacity and relies on an uncertain bidding process. White says the program “provides financial incentive options for solar owners in the short-term and for Oregon’s solar industry in the long-term.… The pilot program reflects a new public policy perspective. Rather than having solar development hinge on the inherently unstable BETC approach, which is funded by the general public, this pilot program is paid for by utility customers through higher retail rates. Businesses and homeowners should sharpen their pencils and compare the options based on their individual needs.” [Portland Daily Journal of Commerce, 6/16/2010]
China is among the nations spending the most on clean and renewable energy technologies, according to investment figures released by the advisory company Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Overall, the world’s nations invested $243 billion in clean energy in 2010, up from $185.5 billion in 2009 and double the amount of money invested in 2006. Bloomberg CEO Michael Liebriech says: “This is a spectacular result, beating previous record investment levels by a clear margin of more than $50 billion. It flies in the face of skepticism about the clean energy sector among public market investors.” Small-scale distributed generation projects such as rooftop solar arrays saw the biggest increase, with Germany investing the most and nations like the Czech Republic, Italy, and the US following behind. China invested more than any other nation in clean energy, spending over $51 billion. Nations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa still spend the most, collectively, on clean energy technology, but the nations of Asia and Oceania have surpassed American spending and are closing the gap on the regional leaders. Public market investment rose in 2010 after recession-driven lows in 2008 and 2009. [RenewableEnergyWorld, 1/11/2011]
Author and computer scientist Ramez Naam writes a column for Scientific American explaining how “Moore’s Law” is at work in the dropping cost of solar energy generation. The benefits are obvious, he writes: “If humanity could capture one tenth of one percent of the solar energy striking the earth—one part in one thousand—we would have access to six times as much energy as we consume in all forms today, with almost no greenhouse gas emissions. At the current rate of energy consumption increase—about 1 percent per year—we will not be using that much energy for another 180 years.” Currently, solar energy only makes up 0.2 percent of the world’s energy production, mostly because the systems to capture and use solar energy are, he says, “expensive and inefficient.” But that is changing for the better. Moore’s Law is an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, in which he said that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled each year. Moore predicted that trend would continue. Later observations codified the “law” to say that the number of transistors per square inch would double approximately every 18 months, in essence doubling the amount of computing power available to a given computer every 18 months. Naam is extrapolating the law to apply to the exponential decrease in the cost of generating solar energy. “If similar dynamics worked in solar power technology,” he writes, “then we would eventually have the solar equivalent of an iPhone—incredibly cheap, mass distributed energy technology that was many times more effective than the giant and centralized technologies it was born from.” Naam takes data generated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL—see 1977) to note that since 1980, the cost of solar energy has dropped from $22 to $3 per watt. It is an almost perfect exponential drop, on average, trending at an average of a 7 percent drop in the dollars per watt cost per year. 2010 data indicates that the drop in price may be accelerating. Two main factors are driving this price drop: solar manufacturers are continually improving their abilities to reduce the costs of developing solar energy systems, and the efficiency of solar cells is rising dramatically. Laboratory results show solar efficiencies as high as 41 percent, and inexpensive thin-film methods (see 1972 and 1988) are achieving up to 20 percent efficiency in the lab, twice as high as most of the solar systems in use today. Moreover, installation costs are dropping as rapidly as technology costs. Naam writes that the trends indicate that the cost of solar will rival that of average retail conventionally generated electricity, about 12 cents per kilowatt hours, by 2020, or sooner. By 2030, solar electricity will cost half of what it will cost to generate electricity with coal. Naam writes: “Solar capacity is being built out at an exponential pace already. When the prices become so much more favorable than those of alternate energy sources, that pace will only accelerate.” Naam concludes: “The exponential trend in solar watts per dollar has been going on for at least 31 years now. If it continues for another 8-10, which looks extremely likely, we’ll have a power source which is as cheap as coal for electricity, with virtually no carbon emissions. If it continues for 20 years, which is also well within the realm of scientific and technical possibility, then we’ll have a green power source which is half the price of coal for electricity. That’s good news for the world.” [Scientific American, 3/16/2011; Investopedia, 2013]
A list of 10 companies that have avoided paying US income taxes is provided by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is pushing for legislation that will close the legal tax loopholes that allow large corporations to avoid the bulk of their tax responsibilities. Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet writes, “Some people call the income tax system with generous loopholes for big companies corporate welfare or corporate entitlements.” Sanders’s list, based on returns and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) documents filed in 2009 and earlier, includes:
ExxonMobil. The oil giant made $19 billion in profits in 2009, but paid no federal income taxes, and received a $156 million tax rebate.
Bank of America (BoA). The financial corporation made $4.4 billion in profits in 2009, and received nearly $1 trillion in Federal Reserve and Treasury Department “bailout” funds. The bank received a $1.9 billion tax refund.
General Electric. This multinational conglomerate made $26 billion in profits in the US, and over the last five years has received $4.1 billion in tax refunds.
Chevron. The oil giant made $10 billion in profits in 2009, and received a $19 million refund from the IRS.
Boeing. The defense contractor received a $30 billion contract from the US Department of Defense in 2009 to build 179 airborne tankers, and received a $124 million tax refund.
Valero Energy. This energy corporation, the 25th largest company in the US, garnered $68 billion in sales in 2009, and received $157 million in tax refunds. Over the last three years, Valero has received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.
Goldman Sachs. The financial giant paid only 1.1 percent of its income in taxes in 2008, though it recorded $2.3 billion in profits. It also received nearly $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.
Citigroup. The financial conglomerate made over $4 billion in profits in 2010, but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion “bailout” from the Federal Reserve and Treasury.
ConocoPhillips. The oil conglomerate garnered $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, paid no taxes, and received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.
Carnival Cruise Lines. This entertainment giant made over $11 billion in profits between 2006 and 2011, but paid only 1.1 percent of its income in taxes during that period.
In a press release calling for “shared sacrifice,” Sanders writes: “While hard working Americans fill out their income tax returns this tax season, General Electric and other giant profitable corporations are avoiding US taxes altogether.… [T]he wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations must do their share to help bring down our record-breaking deficit.” Sanders writes that “it is grossly unfair for Congressional Republicans to propose major cuts to Head Start, Pell Grants, the Social Security Administration, nutrition grants for pregnant low-income women, and the Environmental Protection Agency while ignoring the reality that some of the most profitable corporations pay nothing or almost nothing in federal income taxes.” Sanders calls for closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating the deductions for oil and gas companies. He is also introducing legislation that would impose a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires that would garner as much as $50 billion a year in tax revenues. Sanders says: “We have a deficit problem. It has to be addressed, but it cannot be addressed on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the poor, young people, the most vulnerable in this country. The wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country have got to contribute. We’ve got to talk about shared sacrifice.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 3/27/2011]
Entity Tags: Boeing Company, Carnival Cruise Lines, Citigroup, Bernie Sanders, Bank of America, ConocoPhillips, Goldman Sachs, Chevron, Lynn Sweet, Valero Energy Corporation, General Electric, ExxonMobil
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
The US has slipped to third place in clean energy investment in 2010, despite the federal government’s push to promote investment in clean energy and reduced pollution (see February 2009). China (see January 11, 2011) and Germany are both outspending the US in clean energy investment, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Phyllis Cuttino, the director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program, says, “The United States’s position as a leading destination for clean energy investment is declining because its policy framework is weak and uncertain.” As competitors adopt renewable energy standards and incentives for renewable energy investment, the US could fall even further behind, Cuttino warns. The US spent $34 billion last year on clean energy, while China invested $54.4 billion and Germany $41.2 billion. [USA Today, 3/29/2011]
Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and the author of Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, writes an op-ed for the New York Times claiming that solar power production is too costly in part because of the “huge” amount of land it requires. “[W]hile energy sources like sunlight and wind are free and naturally replenished, converting them into large quantities of electricity requires vast amounts of natural resources—most notably, land,” he writes. “Even a cursory look at these costs exposes the deep contradictions in the renewable energy movement.” Bryce cites as one example the Ivanpah solar plant, which takes up about five and a half acres in the Mojave Desert and will generate about 370 megawatts of power when completed (see September 22, 2013). “The math is simple: to have 8,500 megawatts of solar capacity, California would need at least 23 projects the size of Ivanpah, covering about 129 square miles, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan,” he writes. “While there’s plenty of land in the Mojave, projects as big as Ivanpah raise environmental concerns. In April, the federal Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction on part of the facility out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act” (see August 13, 2013). Wind power generation consumes even more land, he writes, citing the example of a wind farm in Texas that covers 154 square miles and generates over 781 megawatts of energy. Add to that the need for “long swaths of land for power lines,” and you have what one conservation group calls “energy sprawl,” the need for large amounts of land to generate power. He concludes: “All energy and power systems exact a toll. If we are to [keep power generation systems small] while also reducing the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, we must exploit the low-carbon energy sources—natural gas and, yes, nuclear—that have smaller footprints.” [New York Times, 8/6/2011]
'Gusher of Lies' - In 2010, the progressive news Web site Think Progress called Bryce’s book “a gusher of lies,” and recruited renewable energy expert Adam Siegel to debunk it. Siegel wrote: “Masquerading as an unbiased, fact-based look at America’s energy situation and viable paths forward into the future, Robert Bryce’s Power Hungry is a mixed collection of factual material, thought-provoking constructs, selective ‘truthiness,’ questionable (if not simply wrong) data crunching, and outright deceptions. This mix of material makes Bryce’s work dangerous reading for those without a serious grounding in energy (related) issues while that same mix calls into question this work’s value for anyone with that more serious background.” [Think Progress, 9/14/2010]
Counter-Claims - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 ; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]
The US Defense Department increased its spending on clean and renewable energy sources by 300 percent, from $400 million to $1.2 billion, between 2006 and 2009, according to a Pew Research report. By 2010, the Defense Department had spent upwards of $10 billion on clean energy. CleanTechnica reports that the “investments are helping spur development and deployment of clean energy technologies in three key areas: vehicle efficiency, advanced biofuels, and the installation of renewable energy systems at military bases.” Phyllis Cuttino, head of the Pew Clean Energy Program, says: “As one of the largest energy consumers in the world, the Department of Defense has the ability to help shape America’s energy future. DoD’s efforts to harness clean energy will save lives, save money, and enhance the nation’s energy and economic future. Their work is also helping to spur the growth of the clean energy economy.” Fuel shipments make up 80 percent of all supply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those convoys are premium targets for insurgents. Deploying clean energy alternatives will reduce the number of convoys needed to be dispatched, and as a result will save lives and improve the security of American military operations. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus says: “For the Department of the Navy to meet the challenges we face in the 21st century, we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil and find ways to use energy more efficiently. We must ensure that we remain the most formidable expeditionary force in the world, even in these challenging economic times. We can do that in part by changing the way we use, acquire, and produce energy. Before the end of the decade, our programs to develop and use alternative sources of energy, on shore and at sea, will pay for themselves. We will save the department money, but more importantly, these energy initiatives will make us better war fighters and will saves lives.” [CleanTechnica, 9/23/2011]
Uranium mine near the rim of the Grand Canyon. [Source: Intercontinental Cry (.com)]The Obama administration bans hard-rock mining on more than a million acres in and around the Grand Canyon, an area rich in high-grade uranium ore reserves. The ban is for 20 years. Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers have worked for years to limit mining near the Grand Canyon National Park. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, says, “When families travel to see the Grand Canyon, they have a right to expect that the only glow they will see will come from the sun setting over the rim of this natural wonder, and not from the radioactive contamination that comes from uranium mining.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has twice imposed temporary bans on mining claims, says: “A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape. People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place, and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water [and] irrigation.” The basin is already considered one of the nation’s most endangered waterways, and mining operations could use vast amounts of the area’s water and taint much more. The ban reverses a Bush administration decision to open the area to new mining claims; environmentalists have long pointed to the damage wrought to the area by uranium, oil, and gas mining under the Bush administration’s policies.
Mining Poses High Risks to Environment, Tourism - One in 12 Americans gets some or all of their water from the Colorado River Basin, including the residents of Phoenix and Los Angeles, and the area generates about $3.5 billion in annual income, largely from tourism. In contrast, the mining ban will mean that 465 prospective jobs will not materialize, and the area will lose some $16.6 million in annual tax revenue from mining. Supporters of the ban say that the jobs that would come from mining in the area would not be worth the risk to the river basin and the canyon, and a mining mishap would be potentially devastating for tourism. Many of the area’s lands are considered sacred by Native American tribes, and the lands support a vast number of wildlife habitats. Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity says that uranium mining in the area would critically despoil the area, ruin millions of Americans’ access to fresh water, and cut, not increase, job revenues. McKinnon says: “The real economic engine in northern Arizona is not uranium mining. It’s tourism. To jeopardize our economic engine with more toxic uranium mining is unacceptable.” In 2008, former Bureau of Land Management Director Jim Baca said flatly: “Without [the Colorado], there is no Western United States. If it becomes unusable, you move the entire Western United States out of any sort of economic position for growth.” [ProPublica, 12/21/2008; Associated Press, 1/9/2012]
Republicans Criticize Ban - Some Congressional Republicans and mining industry groups call the decision indefensible, saying it will cost hundreds of jobs and deprive the nation of a much-needed energy resource. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the ban a “devastating blow to job creation in northern Arizona,” and says the ban was “fueled by an emotional public relations campaign pitting the public’s love for the Grand Canyon against a modern form of low-impact mining that occurs many miles from the canyon walls.” He says that modern mining techniques will not add toxins to water drawn from the river basin. Other Republicans cite a mining industry study that claims even a severe mining accident would increase uranium levels in the Colorado River by an undetectable amount. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) says: “It is unconscionable that the administration has yet again caved to political pressure from radical special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people. Banning access to the most uranium-rich land in the United States will be overwhelmingly detrimental to both jobs in Utah and Arizona and our nation’s domestic energy security.” Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) calls the ban part of the Obama administration’s “war on western jobs.” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a tea party supporter, says: “This administration has proven incapable of using even the slightest bit of common sense when it comes to lands policy. The American people are desperate for jobs, and our domestic energy industry provides some of the best paying jobs in the western states. However, the president and Interior Secretary Salazar are intent on appeasing their friends in the extreme left wing of the environmentalist movement during an election year by locking up as much land as possible, regardless of the negative effects on our economy. For energy production that has long been safe and responsible, the announcement represents a needless overreaction to a fictitious problem.” [Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012; Senator John McCain, 1/9/2012] In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that mining had contaminated 40 percent of the streams and rivers in the western United States, and mining was considered the single most polluting industry in the nation. [ProPublica, 12/21/2008] Many of the claims now blocked from development belong to foreign interests, including Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, and South Korea’s state-owned utility. [PR Newswire, 6/7/2011]
Entity Tags: Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee, Jim Baca, Environmental Protection Agency, Edward Markey, John Barrasso, Ken Salazar, Rosatom, Rob Bishop, Obama administration, Taylor McKinnon, John McCain
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record
The Los Angeles Times publishes a long analysis of the environmental impact solar power projects are expected to have on the southwestern US desert (see August 13, 2013). Written by Julie Cart, the analysis focuses on the Ivanpah solar power project in the Mojave (see September 22, 2013), which is projected to expand to some 3,500 acres of public land when finished. The plant “will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility, and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource [the firm building the plant] has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species, and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.” Environmental attorney Johanna Wald, who was involved in the negotiations to build the plant, says: “I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection. I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It’s not an accommodation; it’s a change I had to make to respond to climate.” Cart says that plants like the Ivanpah facility will result in “a wholesale remodeling of the American desert” in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. “[H]undreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear,” Cart writes. “Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created. The desert will be scarred well beyond a human life span, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.” Dennis Schramm, the former superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, warns: “The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal. The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted.” Cart writes that at the moment, solar energy is “three times more expensive than natural gas or coal” because of “capital costs and other market factors,” and ratepayers will pay “as much as 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the [California] state Public Utilities Commission.” The impact on the environment will be dramatic in some places, with birds and other wildlife abandoning some areas entirely, and the possible “massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors,” according to government biologist Larry LaPre. Desert tortoise expert Jeffrey Lovich says no one really knows the impact the plants will have on the desert. “This is an experiment on a grand scale,” he says. “Science is racing to catch up.” Most large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have chosen not to protest the development, instead agreeing to become part of the negotiation process and winning some environmental concessions from the developers. Wald, who works with the NRDC, says of the projects: “We didn’t make them perfect. We didn’t eliminate their environmental impact because you can’t eliminate the environmental impact. But we made them better.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2012]
Refutation of Land Use Requirements - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 ; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]
Entity Tags: Ivanpah Solar Complex, Energy Information Administration, BrightSource Energy, US Department of Energy, Sierra Club, Los Angeles Times, Dennis Schramm, Natural Resources Defense Council, Julie Cart, Larry LaPre, Jeffrey Lovich, Johanna Wald
Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry
American Energy Alliance logo. [Source: NJI Media]The press learns that a recent $3.6 million television ad campaign attacking President Obama on gasoline prices was funded by the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011 and February 14, 2011). The ad campaign was launched by the American Energy Alliance (AEA), the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research. Both organizations are heavily funded by the Koch brothers and their donor network, though information about their finances is sketchy, as the groups do not have to disclose their donor rolls to the public. The two groups are run by Tom Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Pyle regularly attends what news Web site Politico calls “the mega-donor summits organized by the Koch brothers.” Koch-funded organizations intend to spend well over $200 million on behalf of conservative groups before the November elections. The AEA ad claims that the Obama administration is responsible for the recent surge in gasoline prices. Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that the Koch brothers are “funding yet another shadowy outside group to defend the interests of Big Oil and protect their own tax breaks and profits with [Republican presumptive presidential nominee] Mitt Romney being the ultimate beneficiary.” The DNC and the Obama campaign have targeted the Koch brothers in previous statements, calling them some of the “secretive oil billionaires” funding the Romney campaign. AEA spokesman Benjamin Cole accuses the DNC and the Obama campaign of playing “shadowy” politics intended “to delay, deny, and deceive the American public about the president’s record on energy prices.” The AEA ad is not connected to the Romney campaign, Cole says, and adds that the ad campaign is not intended to benefit Romney, stating, “[W]e have been public and unashamed of criticizing Mitt Romney or any candidate for office, Republican or Democrat, that doesn’t support free market energy solutions.” Cole refuses to confirm that the Koch brothers are financing the ad campaign, instead saying: “People ask if Koch is behind this ad. There is only one person behind this ad and it is President Barack Obama.” The Koch brothers are becoming increasingly involved in the 2012 presidential campaign, sending representatives like Marc Short to network with former Bush advisor Karl Rove, who runs the super PAC American Crossroads and its sibling Crossroads GPS. [Politico, 3/29/2012]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Barack Obama, American Energy Alliance, Benjamin Cole, Brad Woodhouse, Obama administration, Charles Koch, David Koch, Thomas Pyle, Willard Mitt Romney, Marc Short
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
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