Not-So-Happy Earth Day

Andrew F. Adams is a UC Berkeley student. Send comments to [email protected]





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Hey, happy Earth Day everyone ... SMACK!! Here's a two-by-four to the face. Yes, yes, let's all celebrate being outside ... WHAM!! Here's a crowbar to your spine.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the President's Energy Bill, sending it on to the Senate. I think of all the weeks for the President to bring out his energy bill, the one containing Earth Day would not be the smartest, especially concerning that the bulk of his energy plan is a sloppy oil industry blow job, provided by U.S. taxpayers. Right now it gives away $7.5 billion out of an entire $8 billion in tax breaks to oil, gas and coal industries. The remaining 6 percent goes to renewables like solar or wind power.

So to set the record straight, the oil, gas and coal private interests, all mature and developed industries, are getting huge bonuses and tax breaks. The very same businesses that saw record profits last year (like Exxon-Mobil) and are currently charging above $3.00 a gallon around the Bay Area are pleading poverty and going to D.C. demanding that taxpayers give them a slice of the corporate welfare pie.

All the while, quickly developing renewable energy sources are getting the shaft. Instead of fostering American ingenuity and busines-shouldn't that be one of the government's top priorities?-the federal government is tossing scraps to the solar and wind energy sectors, denying them the very same benefits we gave to the oil, natural gas, computer, auto and many other U.S. industries while they developed.

While we have been playing footsie with Chevron, the Dutch, the French and even the Chinese are making gains in sea power, wind power and solar power. California has some of the windiest spots on Earth (actually numbers two and three in Palm Springs and Livermore) and we are getting passed by the Dutch? I don't want the Dutch to pass me in anything.

But the true ugliness of the situation comes when you look just at what the Bush-Cheney energy plan is going to do. You probably already know about opening up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, but you may not know that we won't see any of that oil for 10 years. So instead of getting a much-needed drop in prices now, you will have to wait until 2015 to see one drop of that gas. And rumor has it that once private companies lease the Refuge, they're going to sell its oil to China. So we may never see any of that oil. But no more rumors. Back to the facts, jack.

This Energy Bill would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission clear final authority to approve liquefied natural gas import terminals, even over state or local objections. So if the federal government wants to stick a natural gas plant across the street from your house, then there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to sit there and take it.

One provision creates complete immunity from cleanup costs for all makers of MTBE, an additive to gasoline. Apparently, the makers knew that it could leak into groundwater and caused cancer in studies but did nothing to stop it. And now, under the Energy Bill, they will not have to pay any for any of the cleanup for their underground tanks, and will actually be paid $1.75 billion to cover transition costs as MTBE is phased out by 2014.

Imagine if you created a product that was a known carcinogen and somehow it leaked into the water supply. You would expect lawsuits and possibly criminal charges, right? But these guys are getting immunity for no other reason than they are connected to some rich people who have expensive connections to our leaders. And that is bull.

This Energy Bill will require the Energy Department to stop oil from being added to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if oil prices dip below $40 a barrel. The whole idea of the SPR is to buy up oil when it is cheap, using U.S. government funds, then release it onto the domestic market when oil prices get too high, thus relieving some of the burden on the American citizen.

But this provision would reverse that, so that if oil prices ever again go below $40 a barrel, the U.S. government cannot buy any. So instead of buying the oil when it is cheap and releasing it when it is expensive, we are basically ensuring that we will pay oil companies above top dollar. Ask yourself, "Why would the president include that provision?"

Giving tax breaks isn't un-American. We give out breaks and exemptions all the time, presumably because we agree with what the company or industry is doing. For example, the U.S. government doesn't tax churches, soup kitchens or the like because they are doing good work and we choose to support it.

Where is the wisdom in giving taxpayer money to the oil industry? These are the same people who raise pump prices for little reason other than they can. Do you think Exxon-Mobil, Chevron or Unocal would lower prices for Americans if they could? No. Yet they take gift after gift, bonus after bonus.

The President and his cronies in Congress have sold their support to the oil, gas and coal interests, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. These people are not looking out for you -unless you are an oil lobbyist-and they are putting the good of a few companies above the good of the nation.

It is greed and it stinks. So in honor of last Friday's Earth Day, grab a two-by-four and swing back.

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