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October 29, 2006

Want to Know How a President Gets Unfettered Authority?

Over the last two weeks, a DailyKos diarist, FranklySpeaking has been researching, writing and posting a series on the votes of Dave Reichert.  He has graciously agreed to have us re-post these on Evergreen Politics over the next week.  The first one was posted here yesterday.  Here is the second

You have to love the Washington coast.  Those of us who have scrambled along the dunes and picnicked in the driftwood on a crisp, clear day know that there is nowhere in the world like it.  It's the kind of place you have to protect.  And if you develop even a sliver of it, you'd want the most thoughtful, careful development you can have, because frankly, God isn't making any more of it.

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.

On October 7, 2005, the House of Representatives considered H.R. 3893. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)
claimed
it was a response to Hurricane Katrina and an "antidote for high gasoline prices."  The Sierra Club
claimed that the bill  exploited the tragedy of hurricane Katrina and would solve America’s energy problems.]    Let's see if we
can't get past the rhetoric and find out the truth behind the legislation.

 
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 yourself 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 supported the bill. As did the  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.

Posted by Lynn Allen on October 29, 2006 at 10:59 AM in Candidate Races, National and International Politics | Permalink

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