Every president since Richard Nixon has called for energy independence, with some, such as Barack Obama, seeking to promote alternative energy sources.
But dependence on foreign oil has continued to grow, while the U.S. lags behind Europe and China in developing alternative energy and promoting conservation. The government can pick winners and losers, with oil, gas and coal producers getting $46 billion in tax incentives a year, while Obama’s modest green energy proposals are likely to go nowhere in the Republican-controlled House. If we want to know why the U.S.continues on its dysfunctional and short-sighted course, we need look no further than the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its newly-minted chairman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI).
Over the course of their careers, committee members have received nearly $8.3 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests, as well as more than $10.6 million from coal and electric utility interests, an enormous amount of legalized bribery.
Upton, first elected in 1986, is no exception. Over the course of his career, this Whirlpool heir has received $251,600 from oil and gas interests, $19,700 from coal interests, and $514,378 from electric utilities. His hiring practices have also reflected the revolving door between Capitol Hill lobbyists and congressional staffers. Upton’s special assistant, Howard Cohen, was previously a lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig and Verner Liipfert, which have multiple energy clients. Scott Aliferis, a former legislative director, is now a lobbyist for K&L Gates, whose energy industry clients include Peabody Energy, Greenfields Coal and McDermott International.
Previously, Upton was considered a moderate. He promoted banning incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescents. As recently as 2009, he saw climate change as a serious problem and called for reducing carbon emissions. But a $20,000 contribution from Koch Industries in 2010, combined with a possible right wing challenge for the committee chairmanship, changed his tune. He is now a co-sponsor of the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases.
When oil, gas and coal producers don’t want to change the way they do business, they won’t let the reality that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollutants have been scientifically determined to produce global warming, a threat to human health and welfare, get in the way. After all, they have the money to bribe Upton and his colleagues to do their bidding. What do they care about the consequences to humanity while they’re getting rich? Once again, we see why public campaign financing is needed to get away from this corrupt and disgusting system that repeatedly thwarts the public interest. But don’t hold your breath waiting for any positive changes over the next two years.