By now most people have heard about fracking and the regulatory “loopholes” created by Dick Cheney through the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This legislation allowed the fossil fuel industry to avoid being regulated by the EPA via the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. This legal sidestep was dubbed the “Halliburton Loophole,” because Cheney had lobbied for it before he became Vice President (under George W. Bush) while he was the CEO of Halliburton. Untold damage has been wreaked upon the environment thanks to widespread use of the fracking process to release natural gas, including earthquakes (in Oklahoma), releases of radiation which had been safely stored deep down in the Earth, poisoned drinking water, and methane leaks from malfunctioning extraction casings. And yet, most people don’t realize that this isn’t even CLOSE to the long-term damage done by Dick Cheney. Not by a long shot.
In fact, Cheney locked us into high levels of greenhouse gas emissions (which will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years) and continued reliance on coal, while simultaneously relaxing (or ending) important regulatory oversight. This didn’t happen by accident. It was Dick Cheney’s deliberate plan. Yes, George Bush was President of the United States at the time, so technically he was Cheney’s boss, however, Bush was, in reality, more like Chance the gardener in the movie, Being There. Put another way, Cheney was like Edgar Bergen, controlling his unthinking puppet, Charlie McCarthy (George Bush). I’m seriously not blaming Bush. It would be like blaming a drunken frat boy for pushing the wrong button and starting a nuclear war when presented with a console of pretty blinking lights. Unlike his father, George H. Bush, who was conniving and intelligent and who served as head of the CIA prior to becoming US President, George W. Bush is more like a highly functioning idiot…a good ole boy just trying to make everyone happy. And keep in mind that Dick Cheney served as Secretary of Defense under President George H. Bush, thereby conveying an almost patriarchal mysticism to Cheney for the lesser Bush who was, of course, “electable,” unlike Cheney, making the duo (in the eyes of the fossil fuel industry), a match made in heaven. Except that George W. Bush’s malleability and simple mind were lethally dangerous in Cheney’s hands.
After being in office for less than two weeks, President George W. Bush launched the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) which was tasked with setting a new course for America’s energy future, with Halliburton’s former CEO, Dick Cheney, at the helm. They were supposed to be developing a national energy policy intended to fulfill one of George W. Bush’s campaign promises of sound environmental stewardship and responsible energy development. But that was totally not what happened. The certainties of that time were simple: domestic oil production was declining as oil supplies dwindled, juxtaposed by the fact that American fuel consumption was steadily increasing. A prudent, long-term strategy would have been to wean the US off non-renewable energy resources towards a cleaner energy future, but that’s not what happened. Instead, Cheney doubled down on the short-term payoff of removing domestic energy efficiencies while extensively strategizing about how to increase domestic production and secure oil sources abroad. As reporter Antonia Juhasz wrote in a 2013 article about the role of oil in the Iraq War:
In 2000, Big Oil, including Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell, spent more money to get fellow oilmen Bush and Cheney into office than they had spent on any previous election. Just over a week into Bush’s first term, their efforts paid off when the National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Cheney, was formed, bringing the Administration and the oil companies together to plot our collective energy future.
First of all, the task force was entirely comprised of people from the oil and gas industry who brought with them a long list of demands, which Cheney not only fulfilled, but went way beyond. The NEPDG task force met behind closed doors and proceeded to issue a report (with Cheney’s picture on the cover) intended to wipe out energy efficiency and conservation efforts while aggressively increasing fossil fuel production. Not surprisingly, the report was met with outrage by environmentalists. As the National Resources Defense Council put it, the report was “a throwback to the days when energy barons pursued oil, coal and other natural resources without a care for their impact on our land, air or water.”
Some of their recommendations included:
- Proposed construction of 1,300 new electric plants over the next 20 years, most of them coal powered;
New regulatory concessions for existing coal fired power plants and oil refineries, allowing them to expand their operations without having to meet (existing) air quality and pollution standards;
A $2 billion subsidy to develop “clean coal” technology. This push for “clean coal” (there’s no such thing as clean coal, by the way) was the pretext for George Bush’s withdrawl from the Kyoto Protocol, calling the international climate negotiations “fatally flawed.” His Administration instead lauded the “solutions” contained within Cheney’s task force report;
Opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and other protected federal onshore and offshore properties which had previously been closed for oil and gas exploration;
End regulation of CO² as a pollutant and began shutting down CO² emission and atmospheric monitoring programs and reports, such as the $1.2 billion Global Change Research Program, the Climate Reference Network (which supported NOAA’s 110 observation stations), and the EPA’s annual Report on the Environment. Instead, the task force chose to focus on a “three pollutant” strategy which would include only sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury;
Cut the Department of Energy’s budget for energy efficiency programs by 50%, and weaken all other efficiency standards programs throughout the federal government. Critics claimed the resulting spike in energy usage created by the lack of efficiency standards would result in the need to build at least 40 new power plants by the year 2020 and inevitably lead to huge cost increases paid for by taxpayers, and spikes in GHG emissions over both the short and long term;
* Retroactive and future legal immunity for manufacturers of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MBTE) which is a gasoline additive and known carcinogen. This “gift” was worth billions to the oil and gas industry;
- Perhaps the most troubling, persistent, and relevant part about Cheney’s task force is something that didn’t even appear explicitly in the report. Because of the numerous lawsuits filed against Cheney by groups both outside, and even within, the US government who demanded that the NEPDG task force documents be made public, a small portion of their working papers did eventually get released, including detailed information about Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, and potential clients for Iraqi oil. Keep in mind that the documents released with detailed Iraqi oilfield information were put together BEFORE the September 11th attacks. And it wasn’t just Iraqi oilfields that Cheney and the oil industry had their eye on. It was also Iranian oil along with resources in several other Middle Eastern countries who had previously nationalized their oil sectors.
What these documents tell us is that Cheney et al had plans of their own for Middle Eastern oil before Osama bin Laden decided he hated America. And how about Afghanistan, which felt the full brunt of US anger after the 9/11 terrorist attacks? The majority (15) of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden. None were from Afghanistan. Certainly none of them were from Iraq. While it appears that the Taliban in Afghanistan had allowed al Qaeda to reside and train there, there were plenty of other reasons to invade Afghanistan. As for the subsequent war in Iraq, as referenced above and documented since, Bush-Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were about as trigger happy as you can get, just looking for a pretense to invade.
The “hammer” constantly looking for a “nail” mentality is ramped up under Bush-Cheney more than ever, and has become so thoroughly enmeshed in our leadership that, for me, this is the ugliest part of Cheney’s legacy. Under Cheney’s carefully crafted plan, US foreign policy has remained solely focused on acquiring, securing, and protecting America’s access to oil and natural resources abroad. This myopic and outdated fossil-fuel inspired strategy boils down to legitimizing and sanctioning wholesale, barely-disguised global resource grabs dressed up as self-righteous campaigns against terrorism, and for freedom and democracy…all at the expense of those serving in the military.
But let’s return to Cheney’s “era.”
Immediately following release of the NEPDG report in May 2001, the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch sued Cheney and his task force seeking to have documents pertaining to the creation of the report released. Task forces such as Cheney’s typically have reporting requirements under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Even the National Petroleum Council has to abide by FACA regulations. However, Cheney and his task force ignored literally all of their FACA requirements, from the usual release of documents pertaining to meetings, to a list of members, and a requirement to hold transparently public meetings. The federal District Court and the DC Court of Appeals ruled against Cheney and the task force, but their decision was overturned on appeal in the US Supreme Court. A Government Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into the task force was then requested by Congress, but it met with the same wall of silence from Cheney and the people who had worked on the report. Consequently, the GAO also decided to sue Cheney although that lawsuit sputtered to a more dubious end. It’s incredibly damning to read their final assessment of Cheney (who is referred to as OVP) and his task force activities. I’ve never read a more “angry” government report written about “itself.”
As Steve Vanderheiden writes in his excellent book, “Atmospheric Justice: A Political Theory of Climate Change:”
“The entire Cheney energy policy reads like a wish list of the energy industry, largely because it is a set of policy recommendations that was apparently authored by lobbyists from those industries with no balancing public or environmental interest group representation.”
Vanderheiden goes on to conclude:
“A regulatory agency is said to be captured when it becomes overly dependent on the industry that it was designed to regulate and so becomes unable to effectively carry out its adversarial mission in defense of the public interest. The Cheney task force report offers a case in which an entire government appears to have been captured by an industry sector, albeit it one that it never intended to regulate.”
Further thumbing his nose at environmentalists, Cheney even charged the already-besieged Department of Energy’s Solar and Renewable Energy Office expense account for the cost of printing his report – $133,615.
During the Bush-Cheney years, every program, report, finding, agency, department or utterance about climate change was silenced, defunded, delayed or discredited. Conversely, the climate change denial movement was ramped up and amplified. Scientific conclusions were constantly altered by mere bureaucrats while scientific staff positions within the government were filled with non-scientists and oil and gas personnel. Again, Vanderheiden sums it up best:
“The lengths to which the opponents of GHG regulation have gone to manipulate and suppress scientific evidence that conflicts with their political goals are well documented and highly disturbing.”
Moreover, Vanderheiden says that even though industry-funded climate change denial had been underway since the 1990’s, the Bush-Cheney years institutionalized the politicization of science. For the first time, the fossil fuel industry was permitted to be perfectly integrated with, and throughout, the US government, cementing Cheney’s despicable legacy of skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions, an utter lack of proper regulatory authority over the fossil fuel industry, a buttressed and solidified commitment to dirty energy usage for decades to come, the sanctioning at virtually every level of obfuscation of facts about the science, and widespread misleading of the public about virtually every aspect of a climate crisis which we are now fully experiencing.
When you factor in the demonization of those in resource-rich countries, whose oil, gas, and precious minerals are just outside the reach of American interests, the result is widespread misery, injustice, and environmental degradation. And he’s not done yet…
Dick Cheney, still living in his gilded bubble of deception, dares to resurface, even after all the damage he’s done both here and abroad, spouting off about Iranian intentions even though his own company (Halliburton) illegally sold the Iranians nuclear reactor components only a decade ago. He is, of course, demonizing a nation whose liquid gold lies just outside America’s grasp which should set off alarm bells for us all. He’s got a proven track record of lying, deceiving, and manipulating our leaders to the point that half the world hates us. And who can blame them? As Iraq War veteran, Mike Prysner says:
Our real enemies are not those living in a distant land whose names or policies we don’t understand; The real enemy is a system that wages war when it’s profitable, the CEOs who lay us off our jobs when it’s profitable, the Insurance Companies who deny us Health care when it’s profitable, the Banks who take away our homes when it’s profitable. Our enemies are not several thousand miles away. They are right here in front of us.”