As analysts continue to pore over the details of the new omnibus energy bill Congress approved and President Bush signed last week, many are questioning the wisdom of providing numerous fossil fuel subsidies to industries that are making windfall profits. Indeed, Congress has asked for tens of billions of dollars to help nuclear, oil and coal companies that are hardly ailing as surging fuel prices throughout the U.S. and abroad generate record earnings.
Conservatives merely chalk it up to pork barrel spending. “Every industry gets their own little program,” Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, told the Washington Post. “There’s pork in there for everybody.”
But liberal critics of the bill don’t think the pork is being distributed rationally. Even the bill’s landmark subsidies for renewable energy R&D are dwarfed by the bones the Republican majority is throwing to big energy companies.
Even though there has not been a new nuclear plant built in the U.S. for several decades, the biggest beneficiary of the bill is the nuclear industry, despite unresolved concerns about safety, disposal and related national security issues. And other “dirty” industries stand to gain an even better position thanks to the bill’s generous subsidies. One particularly laughable provision, at least from an environmental perspective, offers $250,000 for research into using nuclear radiation to refine petroleum.
But what worries critics of the bill even more is its call for repealing the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, a law that prevents the consolidation of public utilities. Consumer advocates like Lynn Hargis of Public Citizen warn that repealing the law will clear the way for “one of the biggest economic changes in the country in 70 years,” including mergers and acquisitions by banks, oil firms and even foreign countries—not to mention higher utility rates and an increased risk of “Enron-style” frauds.