In his weekly radio address on Saturday, May 22nd, President Obama selected the two men that will be leading an independent commission that will examine the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, find the "root causes" of the disaster, and produce a report in six months. Those men were former Sen. (D-FL) and former head of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under George H.W. Bush, William K. Reilly, a Republican.
President Obama said in his address, "If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn’t enforce those laws — I want to know it…I want to know what worked and what didn’t work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down."
BP has been hiding reports and video on the disaster, low balling estimates on the amount of oil that has leaked into the Gulf, and ignoring orders or requests issued by federal agencies dictating recommendations and guidelines for the cleanup. The government has allowed BP to continue to handle this disaster in this manner, which might lead one to believe this commission might simply be one where oil & gas companies involved in offshore drilling (especially BP) could use the disaster to re-brand their company’s image, regain the confidence of politicians, up their contributions to key political leaders, and continue to obstruct movement toward clean, renewable energy in America. With Graham and Reilly on the commission, it’s far more likely that this commission will advance a much different agenda—a nuclear energy agenda.
Both Graham and Reilly have records that show each possesses some level of interest in confronting environmental issues. Graham developed a reputation for being outspoken against offshore drilling in the early 1990s. Reilly was a leader of the World Wildlife Fund and has the distinction of being the first head of the EPA to actually "come from a job in the environmental community."
In addition to being involved in policymaking related to oil energy and offshore drilling, both Graham and Reilly have supported the nuclear industry financially and politically.
Obama said of the two in his address, "I can’t think of two people who will bring greater experience or better judgment to the task at hand…In the days to come, I’ll appoint 5 other distinguished Americans including scientists, engineers, and environmental advocates to join them on the commission."
Those who would like to see individuals without business ties to an industry that could benefit from this commission might be able to think of two better people.
Fmr. Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) Opposed to Offshore Drilling,Very Much for Nuclear Energy
Upon becoming the chairman of the Senate Nuclear Regulation Subcommittee in August 1990, Graham began to give speeches suggesting "nuclear energy should play a "significant role" in meeting America’s long-term energy needs." (St. Petersburg Times – Tuesday, February 12, 1991)
In a speech given in February 1991, Graham remarked to the American Nuclear Energy Council, a Washington-based trade group, "There are no black-and-white courses in a national energy policy…Every option has both assets and liabilities." He acknowledged that nuclear energy had cost and environmental drawbacks but also said that it could be a key way to solve the country’s energy problems.
Graham recommended plant licensing procedures be streamlined to make it "no more difficult to permit a nuclear plant than it is [to permit] an electric plant."
Graham suggested dealing with the question of how to dispose nuclear waste was just as significant as figuring out a way to handle the environmental and health issues that carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide from fossil fuels presented Americans and he cited the war in the Persian Gulf as even more reason to pursue nuclear energy.
In November 1990, Graham said on CNBC that America was "too reliant on petroleum as our source of energy" and he noted while 75 percent of all energy in France is nuclear, only 15 percent of U.S. energy is nuclear. He also added that Florida’s energy consumption was 20 percent nuclear, which was above the national average. (The Tampa Tribune – Monday, November 19, 1990)
The same month he visited a nuclear power plant owned by Florida Power & Light Co. and argued that rising oil cost and clean air legislation would make nuclear energy more important, practical by 2010. He claimed nuclear power was no longer a source of "environmental anxiety" and had become an "environmental asset" because it does not dirty the air like coal does. (The Palm Beach Post – Friday, November 2, 1990)
In the midst of all the posturing in favor of nuclear energy, Graham made it plain that he could not unequivocally support the interests of oil and gas companies. When President Bush was considering requests to drill for oil and gas off the coast of Florida, Graham opposed the requests cited an audit that found the federal government had "done a poor job of enforcing regulations at onshore oil and gas wells." He noted that the environment had been damaged as a result and taxpayers would probably have to pay "millions of dollars to clean up abandoned wells" as a result. (St. Petersburg Times – Wednesday, December 27, 1989)
Earlier in June, a study had found that "the Interior Department had not levied a single civil penalty in six years, despite finding 16,000 violations in that period of time." Graham presumably understood what could happen to Florida if oil and gas companies were able to open shop in certain protected areas and he suggested that if offshore drilling moved forward Florida’s coast could be impacted like areas in the western United States.
He continued to defend areas of Florida from oil interests by spearheading an effort to "kill a little-noticed amendment" to the National Security Energy Act of 1990 that would "reverse President George H.W. Bush’s moratorium on oil drilling off the Florida Keys." (The Orlando Sentinel Saturday Sept. 29, 1990). He signed on to a statement declaring that he and twenty-six other senators were unable to support "oil and gas leasing in wilderness and other environmentally sensitive areas now protected from intrusion, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Florida Keys, and the National Marine Sanctuaries." This statement was made as oil prices rose and conflict in the Gulf between Iraq and Kuwait (that the U.S. became heavily involved in) increased.
Graham was even one of the senators very much opposed to the Cheney energy bill. He and Sen.wrote an editorial published by the Sun-SentinelonJuly6,2003,saying the "basic philosophy behind this bill is to ignore alternative energy issues and drain the nation first — to make it easier and less expensive to extract oil and gas from publicly owned lands, regardless of environmental costs." The editorial also stated:
…It includes a provision that would open the door to offshore oil drilling by requiring a survey of the oil and gas resources under the outer continental shelf. The language in the bill is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to disparage — and even undermine — long-standing, bipartisan moratoriums that protect our coastline from offshore drilling.
It is important to put the drilling issue into historical perspective. On Jan. 29, 1969, a Union Oil Co. platform experienced a blowout off the coast of Santa Barbara. Over 11 days, about 200,000 gallons of crude oil spread into an 800-square-mile slick that coated 35 miles of beachfront. Thousands of oil-soaked birds — along with dolphins and seals and other mammals — washed up dead on the shore.
A total of $17.3 million in damages was paid to local residents and boat owners, as well as the state of California, Santa Barbara County and the cities of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.
This tragedy convinced Californians that they were not willing to assume the risks associated with offshore drilling.
Inarguably, Graham has a record that many environmentalists have found praiseworthy. But, when his opposition to oil drilling is considered in the context of his support for nuclear energy, one must ask if Graham is simply a nuclear energy salesman who knows how to play the game.
In 2003, Broward-Palm Beach New Times looked at who "really had a friend in Bob Graham." They published information on energy and oil markets that Graham had investments in. In 2001, Graham began to shift from investments in Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and health care firms and put $34,000 to $145,000 in seven energy and oil companies, three with nuclear energy interests. (He invested in Vice President Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton, which may present a conflict of interest since the BP oil disaster can be linked to Halliburton).
The New Times pointed out "Graham served on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee where he crafted and voted on legislation that directly affected the companies on which he was betting." They cite a front-page report published by the Washington Times on March 18, 2001, "Energy needs spur rebirth of nuclear power," where Graham was quoted as saying, "Nuclear power is not a magic bullet, but it should also not be a poison pill."
Graham also added, "The technology exists to make nuclear power–already one of our cleanest energy sources–also one of our safest, most reliable, and least expensive."
The New Times reported that Graham co-sponsored the Nuclear Energy Electricity Assurance Act, "an industry-backed bill designed to encourage expansion of nuclear power after 20 years of stasis." The contents of the measure included "large incentives and subsidies to nuclear companies like Exelon," a Chicago-based company and one of the top nuclear energy producers in the nation which had just developed technology in South Africa that the company was hoping to utilize in the United States.
Graham’s PAC contributions from nuclear companies were also detailed:
"The stock buys weren’t the senator’s only financial connection with nuclear power players. From 1998 to 2002, he received $46,287 in PAC contributions from nuclear companies. During his 1998 campaign, when he really needed the money, Graham ranked sixth in the Senate in contributions from nuclear industry PACs, raking in $28,787 during that year’s election cycle, according to the Washington, D.C.-based consumer lobby group Public Citizen.
The single largest nuclear industry contributor to Graham’s campaign was Exelon, which has provided him with $19,000 since 1998. Exelon, in fact, is a particularly generous donor, giving a total of $588,044 to members of Congress in 2002 alone. That makes it the kindest nuclear company to politicians, according to a Public Citizen report issued this past May 20 titled "Hot Waste, Cold Cash." Duke was ranked seventh, with $376,000, and TXU was sixth, with $394,828." click here
Former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly: A Chum for Nuclear Energy
In Reilly’s career, he has demonstrated significant support for nuclear energy while also talking tough on environmental issues. Reilly’s experience writing up a report on the Exxon Valdez oil spill certainly makes him seem like the right person to ask questions of BP and offer recommendations on how to move forward and best address the disaster in the Gulf. But, Reilly is currently the co-chair for theNational Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP), a project of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The Commission was, according to Chemical News & Intelligence, "founded in 2002 and financed by five major US charitable funds." It "drew on expertise from a diverse group of energy issue stakeholders, many of whom, Reilly said, ‘otherwise might never have found themselves in the same room.’"
One of those energy issue stakeholders that the Commission brought Reilly in contact with is also a chairman of the Commission and CEO of the Exelon Corporation, John W. Rowe.
In 2004, the Commission released a report that called for the expansion of energy technologies to keep up with requirements for "substantially increased quantities" of energy over the next twenty years and address the challenges that "climate change" presented the energy stakeholders and those with the power to create and influence energy policy.
One of the technologies the Commission recommended be expanded was nuclear power. It urged the U.S. to fulfill existing federal commitments on nuclear waste management, provide $2 billion over ten years from federal research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RD&D) budgets for the demonstration of one to two new advanced nuclear power plants, and significantly strengthening the international non-proliferation regime.
Moreover, the report called for "government intervention" that would address key issues and "improve prospects for an expanded, rather than diminished, role for nuclear energy." It further claimed that this expanded role was warranted by "several policy objectives" including the needs to reduce greenhouse gases, enhance energy security, and alleviate pressure on natural gas supplies in the electric-generation sector.
He became the leader of the Sustainable Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) in 2008. The board was formed by Energy Future Holdings (EFH) to represent the environment, customers, Texas economic development and reliability/technology interests.
Prior to October 2009, EFH was formerly known as TXU Corporation, an energy company. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., the Texas Pacific Group (TPG Capital), Goldman Sachs acquired EFH and EFH made a "range of commitments aimed at providing a more affordable, more reliable, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable supply of energy to the citizens of Texas."
Energy Future Holdings describes itself as "a Dallas-based energy holding company with a portfolio of competitive and regulated energy subsidiaries, primarily in Texas, including TXU Energy, Luminant and Oncor." Reilly happens to have connections to all of these companies.
Additionally, EFH’s PAC, the Power Political Action Committee of Energy Future Holdings Corporation, contributed $10,000 to Blue Dog PAC, $5,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Nuclear Energy Institute in the 2010 cycle (so far). EFH definitely intends to shape the political agenda so that nuclear power is included.
Reilly was at the center of this deal especially because he is a senior advisor to TPG Capital, a leading private investment firm with $48 billion across a family of funds."
The deal was used by Reilly to get TXU to, according to the New York Times, "commit to [scaling] back significantly on [plans] to build 11 new coal plants and adhere to a strict code of conduct." The move demonstrated that Reilly was willing to make moves to get industry off carbon. And, it also showed that companies like TXU, a company that operates nuclear power plants, could be convinced to give up carbon if they were pomised the opportunity to expand their nuclear energy assets.
Reilly did not have a record of being pro-nuclear energy before becoming EPA Administrator under President George H.W. Bush, but in March 1989, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Reilly was involved in the production of an EPA report that said if one wanted to help slow the warming of the atmosphere, one needed to drive a small care that was able to get 40 miles per gallon, pay a higher tax on coal and oil, plant lots of new trees and, finally, give up opposition to new nuclear power plants.
The EPA under Reilly specifically called for "the construction of 600 more 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plants around the world."
And, since then, Reilly has disappointed many conservationists by championing nuclear energy as a clean energy that can address many problems of the future.
Obama Administration’s Ties to Nuclear?
The selection of Graham and Reilly would be just another anomaly if it weren’t for all the clear ties the Obama Administration has to the nuclear energy industry.
On January 24th, 2010, Judy Pasternak published an investigative news story on nuclear energy’s lobbying push. Pasternak reported, "The Obama administration may soon guarantee as much as $18.5 billion in loans to build new nuclear reactors to generate electricity, and Congress is considering whether to add billions more to support an expansion of nuclear power."
Pasternak detailed, specifically, nuclear power’s ties to the Obama Administration and wrote, "The industry is plugged in on its own at the White House through labor groups and Exelon. Exelon CEO John W. Rowe is NEI’s past chairman and a current director."
"The company, based in the president’s home state of Illinois, has funded Obama campaigns since his Senate run, when employees contributed more than $48,000, according to CQ Moneyline, and Exelon’s political action committee gave the maximum of $10,000. Exelon employees gave Obama nearly $210,000 for his presidential campaign, according to CQ Moneyline.
Exelon’s management includes two Obama bundlers who are friends of the president. One, director John W. Rogers, helped direct Obama’s Illinois fundraising during his presidential race and helped plan the inauguration. The other, Frank M. Clark, has lobbied on nuclear issues for the company.
White House Chief of Staffis close to Exelon, too. The merger that created the utility was the biggest deal of Emanuel’s brief but lucrative investment-banking career. Another White House connection is strategist , whom Exelon subsidiary ComEd once hired to create a fake grass-roots organization supporting higher electricity rates."
Exelon’s Rowe, who co-chairs an energy commission with Reilly, knew that this moment in history would come — the moment when a price on carbon would be instituted to curb global warming; he just didn’t know when. Rowe told Forbes in a report called "Exelon’s Carbon Advantage, "I thought climate legislation would come sooner or later and that I’d rather have my money in the nuke fleet."
Rowe is probably right if he has anything to do with it because the same report by Forbes says Rowe has been lobbying for climate legislation that would put a price on carbon. And, according to Public Citizen’s Tyler Slocum, it looks like Rowe’s and other members of the nuclear lobby’s efforts have paid off.
Public Citizen reports the current climate legislation is a "nuclear energy-promoting, oil drilling-championing, coal mining-boosting" piece of legislation "with a weak carbon pricing mechanism thrown in." The public interest groups warns against the nuclear power incentives currently in the climate change bill:
At its core, this legislation is all about promoting nuclear power and handing taxpayers the bill. Consider:
- Sections 1101 and 1105 would prioritize the needs of nuclear power corporations over the rights of citizens to have full, public hearings about the risks and dangers of locating nuclear power plants in their communities.
- Section 1102 increases loan guarantees primarily for nuclear power to a jaw-dropping $54 billion. These loans are a terrible deal for the taxpayer, especially considering the high risk of default that even the government acknowledges.
- Section 1103 provides $6 billion in taxpayer-subsidized risk insurance for 12 new nuclear reactors.
- Section 1121 allows nuclear power plant owners to write off their depreciation much faster. Section 1121 provides a 10 percent investment tax credit for new reactors.
- Section 1123 extends the Advanced Energy Project credit to nuclear reactors.
- Section 1124-6 allows municipal power agencies to derive certain tax, bond and grant benefits from investing in nuclear power.
If nuclear energy interests have been able to influence the climate change bill in Congress this much, there’s little reason to not believe that nuclear energy lobbyists and others related could influence the commission to investigate the oil leak in the Gulf. In fact, it’s even possible nuclear energy interests played akey role in Obama’s decision to appoint both Graham and Reilly.
There may exist the potential for former Sen. Bob Graham and former head of the EPA William Reilly to uncover all that BP has been hiding from the public and government and why it has taken BP so long to stop the oil from further gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. There is the potential for it to provide great insight into the impacts of offshore drilling and whether America should have a future where offshore drilling is part of a national energy strategy. Given Reilly’s experience writing a report on the Exxon Valdez spill, his knowledge of what worked and didn’t work then should be an asset when investigating and putting together a report on the recent BP oil disaster in the Gulf.
However, as demonstrated in this article, both Graham and Reilly have strong ties to nuclear energy interests. They are spearheading a so-called independent commission that has the capacity to determine the future of not only oil and gas in this country but clean energy in this country.
During the weekend, Graham publicly assured BP and Big Oil that they would get a fair hearing.Because of BP’s and Big Oil;s influence on political leaders in Washington, the Commission is unlikely to suggest that America pursue an energy future free of oil and gas; the Commission will probably not ban offshore drilling permanently. However, what the Commission will likely do is suggest recommendations on how the U.S. can become less and less dependable on carbon energy sources, which contribute to climate change. And, if they do that, they will open a big window for the expansion of the nuclear energy industry in America.