Dick Cheney – A corporate man with a crony policy
Image source – Getty Images
Never has the vice president of the United States had such a devastating impact on the people and environmental well-being of this country. On January 5, 2001 Vice President-elect Richard Cheney said, “[Bush officials] can hit the ground running. They know what they need, and they’re out there getting it.”
Indeed, Dick Cheney did “hit the ground running”. Prior to the inauguration, he began formulating his plans for an Energy Task Force that would ultimately establish the foundation for the Cheney/Bush deregulation era. The resulting National Energy Policy, published in May of 2001, would set the stage for congressional legislation and executive directives that would have a major negative impact on foreign policy and environmental issues for years to come. Unfortunately for the nation, the myopic Cheney policies would lead us into a needless war in the Middle East, and would water-down the controls over our energy industry to the point where the West Virginia Mine Explosion and the BP Gulf Oil Disaster were inevitably destined to occur.
Iraq – Cheney’s war of opportunity
In July of 2003, four months after the beginning of the Iraq War, Judicial Watch obtained some of the secretive Energy Task Force documents that they originally requested in April of 2001 through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Included in these documents was “a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as 2 charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts’.” These documents proved to be instrumental in formulating the Energy Task Force's hidden agenda regarding Middle East oil-control policies.
After 9/11, Dick Cheney became one of the most vocal advocates for war with Iraq based on his stated belief that Iraq possessed WMD. After the Judicial Watch document release, however, many people began to connect the dots between Cheney’s Energy Task Force goals and the nation’s rush to war. Even Alan Greenspan admitted, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”
After the war started, Cheney began to implement the critical Iraq oil ownership policies outlined in his task force meetings. He even saw to it that his former employer, Halliburton, would be rewarded with a multi-million dollar contract encompassing the operation of Iraqi oil fields.
In 2007, the US-controlled Iraq government instituted its own oil legislation that conveniently echoed the Middle East oil-ownership blueprint established in Cheney’s task force meetings. As stated at that time by Terrell Arnold, former Senior Foreign Service Officer at the US State Department:
“Reports from Baghdad indicate that the US-backed Iraqi cabinet has finalized a new oil law that would (a) turn the development of 2/3rds of Iraqi oil reserves over to foreign firms, (b) give multinationals 15 to 20 year contracts, and (c) exempt foreign firms from the application of Iraqi law. Reportedly a committee of three Shi'a and Kurdish cabinet members, plus representatives of 9 foreign energy companies, British and US government officials, and a representative of the International Monetary Fund developed the new law.”
At the end of the day, Dick Cheney got exactly what he was looking for in the Middle East in regard to satisfying the wishes expressed to him by the oil industry for control over that region. Fortunately, for him, he has been able to turn a blind eye to the hundreds of thousands of deaths and the trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that it has taken for him to achieve his goal.
Environmental Disasters – Cheney’s Acceptable Downside Risk
Cheney’s Energy Task Force expected small - beneath the radar - environmental and employee-safety events to occur occasionally as a result of the extensive pull-back in government oversight presented in their energy plan. But this was acceptable to Dick Cheney since his corporate puppet-masters had convinced him that the mining and oil drilling industry had advanced technologically to the point where any minor “hiccups” could be handled through insignificant court settlements, affecting very few people, and having very little effect on their bottom line. But his puppet-masters were wrong.
No one was looking out for environmental or personnel safety issues at the time that the Energy Task Force was meeting. It was assumed that the free-market dynamics of the mining and oil industries would automatically control themselves. Cheney bought into this concept. All of the energy regulatory agencies were intentionally staffed by industry insiders during the Cheney/Bush administration. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), for example, was headed by Stanley Suboleski former Chief Operating Officer at Massey Energy Company, the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine that exploded earlier this year in West Virginia killing 29 miners. After Suboleski left the MSHA to take charge of the Office of Fossil Energy he was replaced by Richard Stickler, another former Massey executive.
After the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, investigators found that Massey had been cited for hundreds of safety violations during the prior year showing little or no oversight by the MSHA. According to The New York Times the MSHA was “a meek watchdog:”
"The agency can seek to close mines that it deems unsafe and to close repeat offenders, but it rarely does so.
The fines it levies are relatively small, and many go uncollected for years. It lacks subpoena power, a basic investigatory tool. Its investigators are not technically law enforcement officers, like those at other agencies...
And its criminal sanctions are weak…. Falsifying records is a felony, for example, while deliberate violations of safety standards that lead to deaths are misdemeanors.
Due to lax rules and insufficient agency oversight, BP’s Deep Water Horizon was another “accident waiting to happen.” At the time of the explosion, BP was operating under a “categorical exclusion” put in place by, what became known as, the “Dick Cheney Energy Bill.” This legislation was passed by Congress in 2005 and incorporated most of the Energy Task Force recommendations. The “categorical exclusion” allowed BP to forego environmental reviews and to be approved for drilling almost immediately. Under the “Cheney Energy Bill,” the oversight capabilities of the Federal Minerals Management Service (MMS) were weakened considerably. According to The Washington Post, the Cheney regulations stipulated that a driller is “in the best position to determine the environmental effects of its proposed activity.” And, like the MSHA, the MMS was heavily staffed with industry insiders.
Furthermore, specific failsafe measures were deemed to be unnecesarry in the “Cheney Energy Bill.” Much has been written about the “acoustic switch” that BP was not required to install on the Deep Horizon rig. Michael Papantino, a lawyer representing the BP Oil Spill plaintiffs, said this on The Ed Shultz Show:
“An 'acoustic switch' would have prevented this catastrophe - it's a failsafe that shuts the flow of oil off at the source - they cost only about half a million dollars each, and are required in off-shore drilling platforms in most of the world...except for the United States. This was one of the new deregulations devised by Dick Cheney ..”
In conclusion, the Cheney Energy Task Force was staffed by energy industry insiders who solicited recommendations from energy industry management in order to establish rules and regulations that would benefit the energy industry. No environmental or industry-safety representatives were included in the process until a summary meeting was held in April of 2001 - after the core elements of the National Energy Policy had already been written.
In the final week of the Cheney/Bush administration, Osha Gray Davidson published an excellent report entitled “The Bush Legacy: An Assault on Public Protections.” OMB Watch summarized Davidson’s report as follows:
“This report shows that attacks on a variety of common-sense regulations over the past eight years have taken a great toll on the United States. Though not intended to serve as a comprehensive record of every anti-regulatory effort by the Bush administration, this report uses clear examples to document a wide range of activity, much of which occurred behind the scenes, away from the eyes of all but the most observant members of the press and the public. The storytelling style of the report, crafted by freelance writer and author Osha Gray Davidson, helps readers begin to understand how much damage has been done under the watch of George W. Bush and his vice president, Richard B. Cheney.”
The full scope of the “damage done” by Cheney/Bush is still unknown. The secretive Energy Task Force left few tracks. The limited documents ultimately released in 2003 through the FOIA were heavily redacted, creating more questions than answers.
Let’s hope that the planned Congressional investigations into the BP Oil Spill will lead to a thorough analysis of the documents and meetings associated with the Cheney Energy Task Force. Only then can steps be taken to clean up the Cheney regulatory mess before the next disaster occurs.