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FEATURE

When Corporations Rule





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The fatal disasters at the Upper Big Branch Mine and Deepwater Horizon are fresh evidence the Bush-Cheney corporate culture continues in some federal agencies charged with overseeing industry. President Obama needs to change that culture fast.

Formal investigations are underway, but it appears that lax federal oversight and enforcement, combined with corporate corner-cutting and greed, are implicated in both of the energy industry tragedies -- the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years and the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Massey Energy’s mine and British Petroleum’s drilling ship in the Gulf were subject to federal oversight. In both cases, oversight failed.

Some barriers to federal oversight are systemic. 
Congressional hearings after the Massey disaster, for example, found that mining companies often abuse the appeals process when federal inspectors find safety violations. About 16,000 violations currently are being appealed, representing $195 million in unpaid fines. It takes more than a year to resolve an appeal these days.

Other barriers are cultural, the result of an Administration’s philosophy about overseeing powerful industries. During the eight years of the Bush Administration, corporate lobbyists for the fossil energy industry were appointed to key government policy and regulatory jobs. The most infamous was Philip Cooney, the former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute who used his position in the White House to censor and water down the conclusions of research by federal climate scientists. After a whistleblower revealed Cooney’s misdeeds to the New York Times, Cooney resigned and went to work for ExxonMobil.

To illustrate how much the Bush Administration was in bed with oil companies, however, nothing topped the scandal in the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, the same agency accused now of insufficient oversight in the Gulf oil spill.  Continued...


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