In the bizarre world that President Bush lives in, it pays - literally - to be a miserable failure, a criminal and a corporate con man. Those are just some of the characteristics of the dastardly men and women who were tapped recently to fill the vacancies in Bush’s second-term cabinet.
But one of the President’s most outrageous decisions (besides naming Alberto Gonzales, who concocted a legal case for torturing foreign prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General) has got to be choosing 66 year-old Sam Bodman to serve as Secretary of Energy. This is a guy who for a dozen years ran a Texas-based chemical company that spent years on the top five lists of the country’s worst polluters.
It’s not just a few clouds of smoke emanating from an oil refinery or a power plant that got Bodman’s old company, Boston-based Cabot Corporation, those accolades. It was the 54,000 tons of toxic emissions that his company’s refineries released into the air in the Lone Star state in 1997 alone that made Cabot the fourth largest source of toxic emissions in Texas. Cabot is the world’s largest producer of industrial carbon black, a by-product of the oil refinery process.
In 2000, the year Bodman left Cabot to join the Bush administration as Deputy Commerce Secretary, Cabot accounted for 60,000 of the more than half-a-million tons of toxic emissions released into the Texas air, according to report by the Texas State Summary of Emissions. A loophole created in the 1972 Texas Clean Air Act exempted or “grandfathered” industrial plants built before 1971 from new, stricter pollution control rules. But in the mid-1990s companies such as Cabot were supposed to curb the pollution coming from its refineries. Environmentalists demanded that then Governor Bush rein in the polluters and close the so-called "grandfather" loophole as the air in Texas became smoggier.
Instead, in 1997, then Governor Bush asked two oil company executives to outline a voluntary program that allowed the grandfathered polluters to decide on their own exactly how much to cut the pollution at their plants. The oil executives summoned a meeting of two dozen industry representatives at Exxon offices in Houston and presented them with the program.
In a memo obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, one executive wrote, "Clearly the insiders from oil and gas believe that the Governor's office will ‘persuade’ the (Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission) to accept what program is developed between the industry group and the Governor's Office".
“And they did. And two years later this joke of a program was enacted into law by a bill written by the general counsel for the Texas Chemical Council who also lobbies for energy and utility companies. The bill was denounced by newspapers across the state,” according to a March 5, 2000 report in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
According to people familiar with the legislation, Sam Bodman was part of the original working group that drafted legislation that then Governor Bush signed into law that basically permitted Cabot and other companies to continue to emit the same level - and in some cases more - toxic emissions as they had been years earlier without so much as receiving a “slap-on-the-wrist” by Bush.
Bodman personally contributed US$1,000 to Bush's presidential campaign and US$20,000 to Republican committees in the 1999-2000 election. Bodman is the wealthiest member of the Bush administration. His net worth is estimated to be between US$42 million and US$164 million, the bulk of it in Cabot stock, deferred compensation and other benefits.
Bodman shoddy environmental record aside, he may also be complicit in one of Africa’s deadliest wars.
In October 2002, Bodman’s former company came under fire when a United Nations Panel of Experts produced a report accusing the company, along with several other US corporations, of helping to fuel the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while he ran Cabot by purchasing coltan from Congo during the conflict and illegally plundering the country’s vast natural resources.
Cabot has publicly denied the allegations in the UN report, but a report by the Belgian Senate states that Eagle Wings Resources International had a long-term contract to supply Cabot with coltan, which it too purchased from Congo during the war. Eagle Wings was also identified in the UN report as contributing to the war.
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