Friday, July 1, 2005

Government for sale!

Guest opinion by Michael Ames


Guest opinion by MICHAEL AMES
Michael Ames, former publisher of The Street, is not for sale.

In early June we learned that Phillip A. Cooney took a red pen to official government reports on climate change, editing those reports to undermine the scientific consensus that the planet is warming due to human activity.

The first question from many was "Who is Phillip A. Cooney?" The answers they got were simple and straightforward, in a deeply unsettling sort of way.

Cooney, who resigned soon after the scandal broke, was the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Among its many chores, the CEQ is responsible for "making our air, water, and land cleaner" and "employing the best science and data to inform decision making."

Prior to his positing at CEQ, Cooney was a lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute, big oil's largest and most influential representative body. At API, Cooney's job was to make sure government policy did not adversely affect the oil industry. And now, according to Time magazine, Cooney has a new job with the energy industry. He has been hired by ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil company.

If it is not clear why an oil industry employee became the head of a council on environmental quality, a little background on the Republican Party may help explain.

In their general prioritizing of money over people, the GOP makes a regular habit of appointing industry captains to direct policy. It is not uncommon nor surprising then, that in the Bush administration a pro-oil lobbyist with a bachelor's degree in economics, would be responsible for "making our air, water, and land cleaner."

The Democratic Party, in their general concern for humans over capital, tend to appoint men and women with backgrounds and expertise in certain fields that facilitate their setting of policy. These officials then heed the interests of concerned citizens while hopefully not disenfranchising the industries that are so vital to our nation's economic strength.

Recent examples:

The Secretary of the Interior oversees national parks, rangelands, wildlife refuges, etc. as a "steward of the land."

Clinton Secretary Bruce Babbit, former governor of Arizona and former head of the League of Conservation Voters, oversaw the interior largely to the benefit of the environment. Some would call him a steward of the land.

Bush Secretary Gale Norton has a strong conservative past with periods of litigious tenacity fighting on behalf of major logging, oil and mining companies. Among her mentors is James Watt, former Reagan Interior Secretary, who was once quoted as saying, "We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber." As an oil industry advocate, Norton has used her position of "land stewardship" by pushing for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Some would say she doesn't care much about the land.

Cooney is one in a long line of Republican officials whose ties with the energy industry sway them towards mind boggling, fringe positions on global warming.

By inserting some words and deleting others from scientific reports, he hoped to muddy the amazingly clear science that explains how we humans are swiftly changing the Earth's climate.

In March, a top official with the federal Climate Change Science Program, Rick Piltz, resigned, disquieted by how White House suits vetted science reports "rather than asking independent scientists to write them and let the chips fall where they may."

Simply put, the Bush administration cannot afford such objective, outside analysis. Doing so would risk ostracizing major Republican donors, such as the oil industry.

Phillip Cooney's recent hijinks transcend even partisan divisions, though. They point to something far worse: a government openly working for special interests—or—in layman's terms, corruption.

The thought of this big-oil-operative wielding his red pen in the highest echelons of policy-making power is a stomach-turning moment of corruption. The proof's in the proofreading: the government is for sale.

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