What would you say if I told you that there was federal legislation designed to give George W. Bush the unilateral authority to hand portions of the Washington coast over to oil companies to build refineries? You'd probably be skeptical, thinking that such an idea would never be seriously considered. At the very least, you'd be sure Washington's congressional delegation would fight to the death against it. Sadly though, you'd be wrong.
Read on for the true story of what's going wrong in Washington, DC. There is such a bill, a bill proudly supported by Rep. Dave Reichert, a bill that passed the House of Representatives by just one vote. It's a bill that defies any rational thinking.
Read the bill if you like. It has a lot of nasty stuff in it - weakens the Clean Air Act for example. Maybe I'll get into that in a future diary, but for now let's focus on the Washington coast. The bill states clearly that
the President shall designate sites on Federal lands ... that are appropriate for the purposes of siting a refinery.
Once the President makes the designation, the bill requires the land to be leased to the oil companies. And just to make sure there are no legal complications, the bill says that notwithstanding any provision of Federal law providing for the disposition of the site, a lease pursuant to a Presidential designation "shall be deemed to be the appropriate disposition of the site."
This is very broad authority for the President. He would be empowered to make almost any federal land available to build refineries. The bill excludes the National Park System, National Monuments, and wilderness areas, but all other public land is fair game. That's right, all Forest Service lands and BLM lands, wild and scenic rivers, and every National Wildlife Refuge would suddenly be available for development if the President liked the idea. And all you have to do is look at the current location of refineries in Washington, California, Texas, and New Jersey to know that the coastal areas are where they like to put refineries.
Take a look at Washington's Wildlife Refuges. From the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge near Port Angeles to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge near the Long Beach Peninsula, there would be plenty of sites to choose from. Maybe they'd need to put in a breakwater but oil companies could find a suitable location if they wanted.
Why does it make sense to give the President the power to unilaterally make that decision? Has he really demonstrated himself to be that good of a "decider"? We aren't talking about a public notice and comment rulemaking or a Presidential commission. There is no process for state and local analysis. We are talking about unfettered Presidential power to provide federal public land to oil companies.
Put yourselve in Reichert's shoes. It's early October 2005. You know that soon you will have to vote on this controversial bill. There is a lot of intensity around the bill. Some groups strongly oppose it and are calling you repeatedly, practically begging you to vote "no." But some groups are urging you to vote yes. You take stock of what the various groups are saying, before you make a decision:
1. The League of Women Voters calls the bill "ill-conceived and dangerous"
2. The National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties and National Conference of State Legislatures all announce their opposition to the bill. They believe that there should be state and local involvement in the siting of these types of facilities.
3. The League of Conservation Voters strongly opposes the bill.
4. Justice and Consumer groups oppose the bill saying it "exploits the disasters caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to promote policies long sought by the oil and gas industries."
5. The Wilderness Society explicitly lays out the risks to the public lands.
6. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculates the bill will cost $3 billion dollars in taxpayer funds.
7. Even a Republican Member of Congress wrote a letter to every Member of the House stating that HR 3893 "will increase the deficit, harm the environment, undermine the states, and give charity to the oil companies while doing virtually nothing to help consumers."
On the other hand, President Bush supports the bill. As did the Washington DC trade association representing oil refineries.
Now, before you make your decision, layer on top of this the fact that refineries are facilities with dismal track records. They spill noxious chemicals into their communities. Refinery accidents injure workers and innocent bystanders in the communities. Are decisions about siting these facilities something that should be left to one person -- particularly George W. Bush?
What would your decision be?
Reichert weighed these factors and made his decision. He decided to vote for the bill and later put out a press release touting his support of the bill. Reichert decided that the President deserved unfettered authority to give oil companies the use of public lands.
In this case, his vote made a real difference. The bill passed by a single vote, 212-210. The Republican leadership had to extend a five minute vote for 50 minutes in order to twist enough arms to get the bill passed. Visit ThinkProgress for must-see video of the whole thing. Not a single Democrat voted for the bill. And if Reichert had voted "no," the bill wouldn't have passed, it would have been tied at 211-211.
I doubt any of us would have made the decision that Reichert did that day. He had a moment to demonstrate the independence he talks so much about on the campaign trail and failed to do so. Dave Reichert is part of the problem.
Now, here's the solution: Darcy Burner.