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  • Friday, October 14, 2005

    The oily bill in America

    From Democracy Now!:

    In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, legislation in the Senate and House has been criticized as beneficial to corporations while sidelining the victims of the disaster. Recently, House Republican leaders pushed through a bill to make it easier for oil companies to build new domestic refineries.

    The bill passed 212-210 but only because the house leadership extended the vote by 40 minutes during which time two Republicans switched their vote. The legislation will streamline government permits for refineries, open federal lands for future refinery construction, weaken environmental protections, and offer subsidies to build refineries even though oil companies are making record profits. The bill would also limit the power of community or citizen groups because if they filed a lawsuit to challenge the location of a refinery they would be required to pay an oil company’s legal costs whether they win or lose the lawsuit.

    In the initial vote tally, it looked as if the bill was going down to defeat two votes shy of approval. Democrats called for gaveling the vote closed to no avail. During the extra 40 minutes of voting House Speaker Dennis Hastert, majority whip Roy Blunt and former Majority Leader Tom Delay all pressured other Republicans to change their votes. After the vote, Democrat Henry Waxman asked from the floor, "Doesn’t this make the House a banana republic?"

    The Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act was introduced last month by Louisiana Senators Mary Landrieu, who is a Democrat, and David Vitter, who is a Republican. The LA Times reported this week that lobbyists representing transportation, energy and other special interests dominated the panels advising the senators in crafting the legislation. Most of the lobbying firms are major campaign contributors and several have donated heavily to the campaigns of Landrieu and Vitter. The bill is estimated to cost $246 billion dollars and includes billions of dollars of business for clients of the lobbyists. The act has been criticized as a missed opportunity to begin creative and equitable reconstruction of the devastated region. Keith Ashdown of the non-partisan watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, said that the lobbyists were exploiting the catastrophe. “They are using Katrina to get funding they haven’t been able to get in the past. You want to help the region but the bill they put together has a lot of projects that aren’t needed. This is congressional looting at its worse.”


    JOHN WALKE: This was Washington at its worse. This vote was an abuse of power. It was an abuse of the process. The bill was pushed through without any hearings, no testimony. It was taken up in a day. Changes were made up until the last minute in the law. There was arm- twisting by the now-indicted former Majority Leader of the House, Tom Delay. There were vote switches by Republicans after this arm-twisting; and before the vote, the Republican leadership, under pressure, admitted that the bill would do nothing to affect gasoline prices, nothing to affect heating oil prices this winter.

    After the vote, some people who switched their votes admitted the same thing. And now we have oil company executives saying: Thank you very much, but we still don't plan to build any new refineries in this country, despite whatever bill you just passed. This is political theater. We had political aides to the Republicans admitting that they did this just to have a trophy to take back home during the Columbus Day recess to tell the voters that they had done something about gasoline prices. But it was a sham and it was a shame.


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