An analysis of the Bush administration’s energy plan points up 17 different provisions that would have benefited Enron Corp., Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said Wednesday in asking “once again” for “specific information about the White House contacts with Enron and other energy companies.”
The latest of Waxman’s almost daily attacks is part of the growing political hype around Enron’s financial failure, which even the capital city’s hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, has called misdirected. That paper’s columnists have pointed out that the Democrats have unleashed their attack dogs on the Enron situation, attempting to tie it and a smear campaign to President Bush in retaliation for the Republicans’ Clinton-bashing.
Most of the seasoned political columnists, however, see it as a non-starter — barring revelation of an actual illegal connection between the Bush administration and Enron that has not so far been revealed. For instance, it has been pointed out that far from being an improper act, it probably is in the best interests of the nation if its Cabinet secretaries take the trouble to inform themselves when one of the largest companies in the country suddenly goes bankrupt.
In a related development Wednesday, FERC Chairman Pat Wood and Commissioner Nora Brownell fielded questions about whether Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay played a major role in getting them assigned to the Commission. “One man made my appointment…my commander in chief,” Wood said during a press briefing. “I did not ask anybody to support me,” quipped Brownell, in response to a report that Lay interceded on her behalf when then-Gov. Tom Ridge objected to her appointment to FERC.
The Enron-friendly policies cited by Waxman were comprehensive restructuring and open access and a national grid for the electricity industry, recommendations to free up trading in energy derivatives and the commodities markets, and to expand oil and natural gas production and wind power. The policies have been supported by many interests, including manufacturing industries and environmental groups.
Waxman also noted that the Bush energy plan recommends increased support for U.S. energy firms abroad and particularly with India to maximize that country’s oil and gas production. Waxman sees a connection in the fact that Enron has international interests and is embroiled in a high-stakes battle with a provincial government in India over a newly constructed $2.9 billion power plant. He pointed out that Enron donated over $500,000 during President’s Bush’s political career and that Enron executives had access to Vice President Richard Cheney and the energy task force in six separate meetings from Feb. 22 to Oct. 10, 2001.
“This creates the unfortunate appearance that a large contributor received special access and obtained extraordinarily favorable results in the White House energy plan.”
The citations in Waxman’s report, “How the White House Energy Plan Benefited Enron,” include most of the administration’s policies for opening the electricity market, including moving some oversight from state to federal agencies.
The policies were recommended by the administration to benefit the nation by expanding energy markets in the United States and making them more efficient. Waxman, minority leader of the House Committee on Government Reform, however, sees ulterior motives. At his instigation and that of other leading Democrats, the Government Accounting Office has asked Cheney to produce records of the task force meetings leading up to the energy policy, including who attended the meetings (see Daily GPI, Dec. 6, 2001).
FERC’s Wood said he has been asked to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 29 about how the energy markets dealt with the collapse of Enron. “Surpringly benignly” was his characterization of the market’s response to Enron’s troubles. There was about a “20-minute blip” in the market, Wood told reporters.
As the Enron scandal has unfolded, Brownell said Wall Street’s message to FERC has been: “We need you to get on with life” so investments can be made in the energy industry.
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