s/r home  | issues  | authors  | 37 contents

Synthesis/Regeneration 37   (Spring 2005)


Bush’s Choice for Energy Secretary

by Jason Leopold

In the strange world in which President Bush lives, it pays—literally—to be a miserable failure, a criminal and a corporate con man. One of the President’s most outrageous decisions has got to be choosing Sam Bodman to serve as Secretary of Energy. This is a man who ran a Texas-based chemical company that spent years on the top five lists of the country’s worst polluters.

It’s not just a few clouds of smoke emanating from an oil refinery or a power plant that got Bodman’s old company, Boston-based Cabot Corporation, those accolades. It was the 54,000 tons of toxic emissions that his company’s refineries released into the air in the Lone Star state in 1997 alone that made Cabot the fourth largest source of toxic emissions in Texas.

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

A loophole in the 1972 Texas Clean Air Act exempted or “grandfathered” industrial plants built before 1971 from new, stricter pollution control rules. In the mid-1990s, companies such as Cabot were supposed to curb the pollution coming from their refineries. As the air in Texas became smoggier, environmentalists demanded that then Gov. Bush rein in the polluters and close the so-called grandfather loophole.

Instead, in 1997, Bush asked two oil company executives to outline a voluntary program that allowed the grandfathered polluters to decide on their own exactly how much to cut the pollution at their plants. The oil executives held a meeting of industry representatives at Exxon’s office in Houston and presented them with the program. Two years later, this program was enacted into law by a bill written by the general counsel for the Texas Chemical Council who also lobbies for energy and utility companies. The bill was denounced by newspapers across the state.

As Energy Secretary, Bodman will be looking out for the energy behemoths...

According to people familiar with the legislation, Bodman was part of the original working group that drafted legislation that Bush signed into law. Cabot, and other companies, were permitted to continue to emit the same, and in some cases greater, levels of toxic emissions.

Bodman’s shoddy environmental record aside, he may also be complicit in one of Africa’s deadliest wars. In October 2002, Bodman’s former company came under fire when a United Nations Panel of Experts produced a report accusing the company, along with several other US corporations, of helping to fuel the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while he ran Cabot by purchasing coltan from Congo during the conflict and illegally plundering the country’s natural resources.

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

In response, environmental advocates, Friends of the Earth United States (FOE), and the UK-based human rights group Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) claimed Cabot and other western corporations violated the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) “Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,” a set of international standards for responsible corporate behavior.

The UN panel report reads that a three-year investigation found that sophisticated “elite networks” of high-level political, military and businesspersons, in collaboration with various rebel groups, intentionally fueled the conflict in order to retain control over the country’s vast natural resources. The Panel implicated many Western companies for directly or indirectly helping to fuel the war. The US State Department is in charge of deciding whether US companies breach the OECD guidelines and has refused to launch an independent investigation into whether Cabot, under Bodman’s leadership, and the other US companies contributed to the war in DRC.

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

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

Jason Leopold is the author of the forthcoming book Off the Record: An Investigative Journalist’s Inside View of Dirty Politics, Corporate Scandal, and a Double Life Exposed (Rowman & Littlefield). He can be reached at jasonleopold@hotmail.com. Visit his website at www.jasonleopold.com

[9 may 05]

Synthesis/Regeneration home page | s/r 37 Contents