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Energy Secretary Abraham Served “Big Energy Contributors…More Than the Public Interest”

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Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham resigned yesterday after what many are calling a tenure marked by frustration. We speak with Robert Kennedy Jr., author of Crimes Against Nature. [includes rush transcript]

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham resigned yesterday after a what many are calling a tenure marked by frustration. Many say his greatest disappointment is the administration’s failure to win congressional approval of President Bush’s high-priority energy bill, despite Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.

In a letter to President Bush on Monday, Abraham said that he was submitting his resignation because he wanted to devote more time to his family, including three young children. He said he would remain at the department until a successor is confirmed early next year.

As a Republican senator from Michigan, Abraham once called for dismantling the Energy Department. As Energy Secretary, Abraham faced a number of major issues during his tenure, from the nation’s worst power blackout to record-high crude oil and gasoline prices as well as a growing urgency to find a place to bury the country’s nuclear waste.

In his resignation letter he also said that 90 percent of the recommendations issued by Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy task force — those that didn’t need legislation — had been implemented.

  • Robert Kennedy Jr. , author of the book “Crimes Against Nature: How George W Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We asked Bobby Kennedy to respond to Spencer Abraham’s resignation.

ROBERT KENNEDY, JR.: Well, under Spencer Abraham’s leadership, the Department of Energy seemed to be more interested in serving big energy contributors from the oil and coal industry specifically and from the nuclear energy industry than serving the public interest. That industry contributed $48 million to President Bush and the Republican Party during the 2000 cycle, and after the inauguration, they donated another $58 million. And the energy policy, which was one of the first policy initiatives of this president, was hatched in 109 days of secret meetings with the C.E.O.s and major lobbyists of those organizations with the — Dick Cheney’s energy — secret energy committee, which was staffed by Spencer Abrahams, who was one of the guiding hands with Dick Cheney. Spencer Abrahams had come out of Michigan, where his relationship with the automobile industry had been a very, very close one, and he had been one of the champions of fighting C.A.F.E. standards, corporate average fuel efficiency standards in automobiles. Of course, that is probably the principle reform that we need to do in our country, if we’re going to end the dependence on foreign oil. If we raise fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon, we generate twice the amount of oil that’s in the arctic national wildlife refuge. If we raise fuel efficiency by 7.6 miles per gallon, we could eliminate 100% of gulf oil imports into this country. We have a solution to our energy dependence, foreign energy dependence, but instead of taking that solution, the — Abraham’s energy policy was to increase drilling, increase the tax breaks to these energy companies that were already rolling in record profits and didn’t need extra public money. But it seems — he seemed intent on serving the interests of those companies rather than the American public. You know, this is what we have seen across the board with this administration. This administration has more C.E.O.s in its cabinet than any administration in history. It’s really a merger of state and corporate power. You see that not only on the — at the secretariat levels, but in the sub-secretariat and assistant secretariat and the agency heads. This administration has put lobbyists for the extractive industries and for the energy companies in as heads of the agencies that are supposed to regulate those industries. The head of the forest service is a timber district lobbyist. The forest service is part of the Department of Agriculture, where Ann Veneman reigned, and corporate agriculture was heavily represented in all the agencies. The head of public land is a mining industry lobbyist who believes that public lands are unconstitutional. The head of the air division at E.P.A. is a utility lobbyist who has represented nothing but the worst air polluters in America. President Bush appointed a second in command of the E.P.A., a Monsanto lobbyist and had as the head of superfund a woman whose last job was teaching corporate polluters how to evade superfund. If you look at virtually all the secretaries in the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Interior and even the Justice Department, they are now being run by, you know — these agencies that are meant to protect Americans from pollution are now being run by lobbyists for the worst polluters in our country. And it’s a — you know, it’s a — it’s not only an assault on the environment, because these companies are trying to liquidate our shared resources, our public trust resources for cash and their own profits, but ultimately, it’s an assault on democracy as well. You know, the — we have been warned from the beginning of our national history, by our greatest, most visionary political leaderships against the merger of state and corporate power, you know, warned about the corrosive impacts of excessive corporate power on American democracy. Franklin — or Teddy Roosevelt said, who was a republican, said that our country would never be destroyed by a foreign enemy, but he warned that the democratic institutions would be subverted by malefactors of great wealth who would undermine them from within. Dwight Eisenhower, another great republican in his greatest speech ever, warned America against the domination by the military-industrial complex, and the greatest republican in American history, Abraham Lincoln, said during the height of the Civil War in 1863, he said I have the South in front of me, and I have the bankers behind me and for my country, I fear the bankers more. There’s nothing wrong with having businesspeople in government, if your object is to bring competence and expertise into the administrative process, but too often with this president, we have seen that these businesspeople are not entering government for the public service, but rather to subvert the very laws they’re now charged with enforcing.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Kennedy, Spencer Abraham as the one-term senator from Michigan received more money from the automotive lobby than any sitting senator, and you still have at least at this point, Andrew Card, Chief of Staff, who is a former General Motors lobbyist. How does that affect policy?

ROBERT KENNEDY, JR.: Well, again, you know, the keystone of national energy policy has to be fuel economy standards. But instead of trying to, you know, lower or trying to improve fuel efficiency, this administration cut the tax breaks for hybrid cars, and they implemented a $100,000 tax break for the largest S.U.V.s, for Hummers, essentially. So that you could get — it can actually be for some people cheaper to buy a Hummer than it would be to buy, for example, a $22,000 Prius, simply because of the huge tax breaks that you can — that encourages people to buy the least fuel efficient cars. That’s not a national energy policy. This administration really was not trying to conserve oil, and to — and our dependence on foreign oil. The major objective of its energy policy was to serve the interests of the — you know, of Detroit and the big oil companies. The energy plan that was hatched by Spencer Abraham and Dick Cheney was really written by, literally written by the energy companies, and was by a dream team of energy lobbyists who got together to do the bidding of the president’s corporate paymasters in the energy industry.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Kennedy, Jr., author of the book, Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy. He’s with the Natural Resources Defense Council and head of the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University in White Plains, New York. This is Democracy Now!

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