The nasty byproduct the energy plan ignores.

Published May 18, 2001 12:10AM (EDT)

"That's My Bush!" convergence alert!

As viewers of Comedy Central's fictional "That's My Bush!" (or readers of Bushed!'s weekly recap) know, this week's episode centered presciently on whether the president would open up Alaska for oil drilling. The hijinks include that sneakily cynical Karl Rove, who trains an Alaskan Eskimo named Knuk-Knuk to say "oil good!" (when he actually thinks he's saying "I am hungry!")

Why? "Most protestors think that Alaskans don't want us drilling for oil on their land," Karl explains to the president. "That will all change when we put Knuk-Knuk in front of them and have him say that he thinks drilling for oil is good."

On cue, Knuk-Knuk chimes in: "Oil good!" The laugh track erupts.

Uproarious satire, you say? Nay!

Just check out National Review Online contributor Deroy Murdock's Wednesday posting: "Eskimos: Open ANWR Now." Murdock quotes an Inupiat Eskimo, who tells him his fellow tribesman "do not have running water or a sewer system. That means they are relegated to Third World conditions where people have to melt ice to bathe and to drink. They use five-gallon containers for sanitation." According to Murdock, "This absence of flush toilets causes sometimes-fatal cases of hepatitis A and contributes to high infant mortality rates."

A fellow tribesman tells Murdock, "The standard of living has increased dramatically in the last 30 years since the oil companies came to Alaska." Increased dramatically from what, exactly? Not melting ice to bathe?

"In the form of jobs and tax revenues from the petroleum industry it supports, our land provides the opportunity for economic security, self-determination, and freedom," says another.

In other words: "Oil good!"

Karl Rove (either one) would surely be proud.

As a result, this week's reality rating for the "That's My Bush!" recap has been improved from 7 to 9 (out of 10).

--Kerry Lauerman

Rant: The new nuke thing

As the Bush administration makes its big energy plan push Thursday, advocates of nuclear power are beaming with delight. Vice President Dick Cheney himself has called nuclear power "a safe, clean and very plentiful" source of energy -- perfect for these troubled times. But before we start building any of the new nuclear power plants Bush says we need, it's time to answer a very important question: What do we do with the waste?

<pThe administration assures us that it has that part covered. But judging by massive budget cuts to the Department of Energy's nuclear waste management programs, it sure doesn't look like it. Bush's 2002 budget cuts funding for radioactive waste management by nearly 30 percent, and slashed the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative, which improves the cost and safety of nuclear energy, by 48 percent.

For years, people who support nuclear power insist that it's gotten a bad rap. To counter that impression, they point out that America already has 103 reactors that provide 20 percent of the country's electricity, cheaply, quietly and without incident. That energy is significantly cheaper than coal or natural gas. But nuclear power still makes Americans queasy -- most of all, because they don't feel comfortable with nuclear waste. Cheney himself told the Wall Street Journal last week, "Probably the key public policy issue on nuclear power is the waste problem."

So where is the logic in gutting funds for programs that could reassure them -- a week before launching a push for more nuclear power plants?

The emerging, heated debate over the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear storage waste site in Nevada isn't the only bump in the road to more nuclear energy. People in Nevada are up in arms about the plan to dump nuclear waste in their backyard, and they insist that if the site does go through, they want the Environmental Protection Agency to keep an eye on it -- not the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which many say is too friendly with the industry to put any teeth in its safety enforcement.

But before we even consider a new permanent nuclear dump, look at nearby New Mexico's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a permanent resting place for nuclear waste that got its first shipment just two years ago. Plans are in the works to expand the amount of waste WIPP will take, but Bush's 2002 budget slashed $26 million of its funding.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., issued a statement saying that this budget proposal would make it "impossible" to keep up environmental management goals and called for that money to be restored through appropriations funding. Like other Republicans in the West, Domenici has long been an advocate for nuclear power and research projects, but has also paid serious attention to the environmental risks that come attached. "I've worked very hard to rebuild credible programs in nuclear engineering over the last few years," Domenici stated, lamenting cuts in an array of energy programs -- including scientific research and nonproliferation.

Even advocates of nuclear power aren't so sure building new plants is the best way to usher in a nuclear power renaissance. In the Washington Post on Sunday, Jennifer Weeks, director of Harvard's Managing the Atom project, argued to extend the lifespan of existing nuclear power plants from 40 to 60 years, provided NRC inspections conclude they are safe. But she says the case for new reactors is "more difficult" to make. "New reactors will not make sense without improvements in cost, safety, radioactive waste management and safeguards against the proliferation of nuclear weapons," Weeks wrote.

When you also consider that Bush also slashed funds for the research and development of solar power (by nearly 54 percent), hydropower (by 50 percent) and wind energy (by 48 percent), it appears that the Bush energy plan -- with the exception of its nuclear expansion -- is vested solely in status-quo solutions.

But arguments about alternative energy sources aside, if Bush and Cheney really want to sell the American people on nuclear energy, they've got to keep it clean. And convincing us that the long-term benefits of more nuke plants cancel out any long-term risks will require more answers about how we'll deal -- using less money -- with more nuclear waste.

--Fiona Morgan

Rant: Paging Mr. Nader

"G.O.P. seems to stand for gas, oil and plutonium."

"We call on the president to move away from the special interests and put the interests of the American people first."

"The president has appointed a host of energy lobbyists to key posts, and they seem willing to put the national interest second."

When I first read these quotes in the New York Times I thought I'd see them attached to the phrase "said Ralph Nader." Alas, no. The first was Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri. The second was Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota and the third was Mr. Gephardt again.

The Democrats are saying what Ralph used to, which is fine. But where's Ralph, and who is he talking to, if not to the press and the American public? I've been reading the reports of how the Bush administration is pushing former corporate lobbyists into key posts where they will become the foxes watching the chickens. I've read about the energy plan and its inherent cave-in to the big energy concerns that are headed by Bush and Cheney cohorts. And when Bush is asked about energy shortages, he says -- with the straightest face he's capable of -- Pass my tax bill so Americans will have the cash to pay for the more expensive gas!

So where in this consumer fraudville is the citizen's most vociferous advocate? Back in his good and loud old days, he used to be seen almost weekly, stepping up to a lectern in some poorly lit Washington hotel, clearing his throat, putting his hands in his old suit pockets, slightly hunched over the microphone, saying something scathing about the rampant power of multinational corporations, the dangers of nuclear power plants and the insidious greed of the oil and gas companies.

Where's Ralph and why isn't he shouting out loud, as he has for the past 30 years, that this administration or that company is heinous and verging on the criminal? Where are the Nader quotes in the New York Times, Washington Post and wire stories on these issues?

Is the good man tired from his campaign for president? Is he bitter that everyone criticized him for throwing the election to Bush by siphoning off would-be Gore votes? Is he giving up?

I worked for Ralph for two years (1978-80) and didn't know him ever to be tired, bitter or to give up. His most effective work has always been as an outsider; an unassailable catalyst for change. He was able to effectively critique the government and multinational corporations because he had nothing to gain by doing so. His whistle-blowing was always on key -- strident, but on target. When, in the 1970s, he screamed about the need to rid our country of dangerous nuclear power plants and to mandate airbags, people called him a dangerous airbag in meltdown. But years later he was vindicated -- as usual.

I miss him. I'm angry at him. And I'm curious. What is he doing if he's not yelling at us? If he has decided to take a vacation for the first time in his life, great. He deserves it and I'll shut up. But I hope it doesn't last long. Ralph on vacation would be like George W. Bush at a book reading.

--Karen Croft

This day in Bush history

May 17, 1997: A Harte-Hanks poll of Texas voters asked the question: "Do you think [Texas Gov. George W. Bush] should run for president in the next presidential election in 2000?" While 41 percent responded "yes," 47 percent said "no."

"That's My Bush!" recap

The setup: Protesters are demonstrating in front of the White House over plans to start oil drilling in Alaska. Rocks are thrown through the windows as George and Laura enjoy "snuggle time" while watching "The Geena Davis Show."

The subplot: Laura decides that the ever-uptight Karl needs a girlfriend, and sets him up on a date with a friend of hers, who, he later happily brags to the first couple, "checked out my Washington Monument."

The rub: The ringleader of the anti-drilling protests outside turns out to be wacky neighbor Larry! Karl is actually married and has a 9-year-old daughter, and Laura has unwittingly aided him in adultery!

The high jinks: Larry conducts an act of "ecotage" in the White House, setting the sewage pipes to overflow. Karl's angry wife accuses Laura of "tempting my husband with one of your vixens," as her daughter simpers by her side. (She quietly pleads to Laura: "Why, lady, why?") So George hatches a plan to trap Karl and his wife in a confined space because, as Laura explained while watching "The Geena Davis Show," "every show does a 'trapped in a small space' episode; it's how they get their characters to settle their differences."

They plot to lock Karl and his wife in the Green Room so they can sort out their differences.

The switcheroo: Karl accidentally gets locked in the Green Room with wacky maid Maggie; George gets stuck in the elevator with Larry; Laura gets stuck in the hallway, trapped by a rising tide of sewage on each side, with Karl's wife; Princess gets stuck in a meat freezer with a ravenous Alaskan Eskimo whom Karl has coached to say "oil good" when what he means is "I am hungry."

The result: George and Larry decide to remain friends even though they disagree about drilling oil in Alaska; Karl's wife realizes Laura wasn't pimping out friends for Karl; Karl and Maggie share a warm moment. Then Karl and George, both crawling through an air vent trying to escape, switch places, and Larry convinces Karl that drilling for oil in Alaska is bad because "paying Arabs for oil is like paying a prostitute for sex. It might be a little underhanded and dirty, but at least you don't screw up your own home." Karl, suddenly, has an epiphany.

The show ends with Karl addressing the crowd of protesters -- and his wife -- declaring, "I was about to give up 25 years of marriage because of the excitement of a new woman. But now I realize that I can get the same excitement by just paying a prostitute for sex. A new love doesn't have to come between me and my wife." He then declares that they should not drill in Alaska and "screw up our own home."

The crowd applauds wildly.

Reality ranking: The timing with the Bush energy plan -- all about drilling for oil in Alaska -- is laudatory. Plus: Is Karl Rove married with a 9-year-old daughter? If he were, would we know? Total score: 9 out of 10.

-- Kerry Lauerman

Bush league

Though the White House is now trumpeting the report crafted by the National Energy Policy Development Group, the administration has been extremely tight-lipped about who made up the task force that met with Vice President Cheney to come up with the energy plan. In April, the administration resisted calls from Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and John Dingell of Michigan to make the group's activities a part of the public record -- even under the threat of a possible congressional investigation. On May 1, the Energy Department refused a Freedom of Information Act request from the Natural Resources Defense Council to release relevant documents on the grounds that most of those papers were "pre-decisional in nature" (bureaucratese for rough drafts) and, therefore, protected from FOIA disclosure requirements.

So Democrats and environmentalists have settled for digging through the administration's transition archives to make their point that the report is the handiwork of energy industry bigwigs. As part of its opposition efforts, the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday released a document titled "Energy Ties in the Bush Administration." Included was information on the "Bush Energy Transition Team," the group that helped then President-elect Bush set up the Energy Department. The DNC notes that "out of the 48 members" whom it researched, "almost two-thirds worked for the energy industry."

In the same press release, the DNC cited another report, provided by the League of Conservation Voters and originally compiled by Friends of the Earth, that gives a more complete accounting of the Bush energy transition team and its links to the energy industry. The FOE breaks down the group this way:

  • 63 team members
  • 50 representatives of energy supply industries
  • 27 representatives of the oil and gas industry
  • 17 representatives of the nuclear power or uranium mining industries
  • 16 representatives of the electricity industry
  • 7 representatives of the coal industry
  • 1 energy efficiency expert
  • 0 renewable energy experts
  • 8 "Bush Pioneers" (who each raised more than $100,000 in direct contributions to the Bush campaign)
  • $8,007,479 donated by team members, their families and their company PACs to Republican candidates from 1999 to 2000.

    Though FOE spokesman Sean Moulton assured Salon that the names of the team members were lifted directly from the now-defunct Bush presidential transition Web site in January, Cheney spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss said she could not confirm the identities of any transition advisors. Weiss further stated that those people and their corporate ties had nothing to do with the administration's current energy report. "The transition team finished its work months ago," she said. "The National Energy Policy Development Group is made up entirely of federal employees."

    But DNC spokesman Rick Hess claimed that as long as the administration insisted on withholding information about who met with Cheney's group, the transition team list provides the best clue as to who is influencing Bush energy policy. "Since the folks involved in the transition would have their hands on nearly everything that happens," Hess insisted, "showing that the Bush administration was so tied to special interests during the transition proves that industry officials were likely closely tied to the creation of this plan."

    If Republicans want to prove that that's a cheap shot, Hess suggested, they should give up the goods on the current energy policy effort. "Most Americans think that someone other than Bush is in charge of this. Releasing this information would be a great way to disprove that," he said.

    For good measure, the DNC didn't stop at reaming Bush's transition energy advisors, and also recycled information about the energy industry ties of those Bush administration officials who are on the official energy policy group roster: Cheney's tenure as CEO of Halliburton, "the world's largest oil field services company"; the $700,000 in auto industry donations garnered by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in his failed 2000 reelection effort; Interior Secretary Gale Norton's work for the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates, a group that promoted industry calls for decreased environmental regulations; and Commerce Secretary Don Evans' 25-year career at Tom Brown Inc., an oil and gas company.

    Some Cabinet secretaries who sit on the energy task force managed to avoid mention on the DNC's list of shame: Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta. O'Neill is the most surprising omission, considering his history as CEO of aluminum giant Alcoa. Mineta's omission is the least surprising, considering his membership in the Democratic Party. And Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman was also spared, perhaps because she has already suffered enough embarrassment from her boss.

    -- Alicia Montgomery

    Daily line

    "America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970's."
    -- Opening line of Bush's National Energy Policy overview

    Bush buzz

    The public gets its first look at the White House's energy plan on Thursday, with its ominous warnings of energy shortages, incentive packages for power producers, big-time rollbacks of environmental regulations and modest proposals for conservation. According to the Bush administration, America must prepare for a dramatic leap in energy consumption in the near term by encouraging research, development and production of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

    There's good news in the report for the once-passé coal industry, which the task force identifies as an underused asset for a power-hungry nation. Nuclear energy gets a much-needed public relations boost from the plan as well, with Bush calling for construction of new power plants and refurbishment of older facilities. This calls up the pesky problem of nuclear waste, and environmentalists believe that the president's plan poses no new solutions for that problem.

    Bush has tried to blunt the uproar over plans to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by including conservation measures in his proposal, forcing himself to co-opt a few of the ideas that he derided when then Vice President Gore brought them up during the presidential campaign. Bush also borrows from a past Democratic leader by co-opting the alarmist language of the 1970s energy crunch, inviting comparisons with the disaster that helped hobble the administration of former President Carter. But Carter himself says that Bush is just crying wolf.

    While some critics charge that there was too much industry influence over the process, others claim that Vice President Cheney was too great a force in the report's crafting, and that his past as an oil industry executive gives Democrats a convenient basis for attacking the plan. Even before they've read it, Democrats have blasted the proposal, asserting that anything that comes from the oil industry sycophants at the White House can only mean a government giveaway to big energy interests -- and the shaft for little people and the environment. Meanwhile, both sides are getting criticized for exploiting the nation's current energy problems for political gain before adequately defining them.

    Republicans are not entirely happy with the report either, fearing that Bush's heavy emphasis on developing long-term production capacity with little about curbing short-term spikes in fuel prices leaves them dangerously exposed on the issue. Furthermore, Western states believe that the proposal's call to expand federal powers to seize private property to build power lines will alienate the GOP's natural allies in the property-rights movement.

    In other administration news, solicitor general nominee Ted Olson may or may not get a confirmation vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. Democrats continue to question inconsistencies in his testimony about the "Arkansas Project," the effort of Bill Clinton's opponents to dig into past and current scandals involving him and Hillary Clinton. Reporter David Brock, who worked with Olson at conservative journal the American Spectator, has challenged the nominee's assertions that he played no role in the project's early development.

    Those in the conservative camp are complaining that Democratic resistance to the Olson nomination has less to do with perjury and more to do with the attorney's work for an anti-Clinton magazine. Others in Republican circles are questioning why so little attention has been paid to Olson's less-than-stellar performance during his work in the Reagan administration. At that time, Olson's advice pushed the president and his environmental squad into a coverup of campaign favors that led to a congressional corruption investigation.

    And don't miss porn king Larry Flynt's quest for the president's sexual secrets. The founder of Hustler magazine claims that his effort to dig up information about the women in Bush's life has been frustrated by a wall of silence maintained by the family's friends and associates in Texas. But Flynt has already missed his chance to supply the administration's first brush with porn. The Traditional Values Coalition has written a letter asking Bush to drop Harvey Pitt, Bush's nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the past, Pitt worked as a consultant to New Frontier Media Inc., a multimedia pornography company.

    Thursday schedule: The president travels to Iowa and Minnesota to promote his energy initiative.

    -- A.M.

    Burning Bush

    Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

    Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

    Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

  • By Salon Staff

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