Three separate panels were held within the hearing itself: one on green energy credits included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, another examining different view points on the proper role of the tax code in promoting U.S. energy policies, and the third on House Resolution 1380, the NAT GAS (New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions) Act.
As stated in an earlier article, “The bill is 24-pages long and rewards [natural gas vehicles] with tax [subsidies] to help 'drive' consumption. The bigger the vehicle, the more tax credits given.” The bill's main purpose is to build up a massive fueling and vehicle infrastructure for the natural gas industry, which currently does not exist in the United States.
The NAT GAS bill was written by and for natural gas insiders, chief among them energy magnate T. Boone Pickens, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon and Clean Energy Fuels CEO Andrew Littlefair – referred to in an earlier post as the “self-enriching trifecta.” The bill currently possesses 183 bipartisan co-sponsors and until finally getting a hearing Friday, had sat in the Congressional coffers since early April.
No Voices Included on Hazards of Gas
As DeSmogBlog and many others have discovered, unconventional gas from U.S. shale deposits is not the “clean” energy panacea it is often touted as. Unconventional gas is a dirty fossil fuel from cradle, when sand mining for hydraulic fracturing occurs, to adolescence, when the actual hydraulic fracturing drilling process occurs, to adulthood, when it is held in compressor stations and contaminates air, to grave, when it is utilized in power plants and vehicles.
None of these concerns were addressed in the hearing, which honed in on a much narrow debate – the merits of giving tax subsidies to energy corporations, particularly as provided in the NAT GAS Act – leaving the environmental and ecological debate completely off the table. All five of the men invited to testify at the hearing had corporate backgrounds, and not a single testifier had a scientific background.
Littlefair, according to his biography on the CEF website, is also the Immediate Past Chair of Natural Gas Vehicles of America (NGVA). NGVA, which works in concert with CEF. As I revealed in an April article, NGVA is the suspected author of the NAT GAS Act.
Pickens Fuel Corporation is the predecessor of CEF, which Littlefair co-founded in 1997 with T. Boone Pickens. It was reincorporated as CEF in 2001. CEF dedicated its first Liquefied Natural Gas plant to Pickens in May 2006, according to its website. The plant is called the “Pickens Plant,” and is located in Willis, Texas, roughly 60 miles north of Houson.
Coming full circle, the NAT GAS Act is the artist formerly known as the Pickens Plan. The passage of the NAT GAS Act would be the culmination of a 3+ year public relations campaign by Pickens and the corporations and hedge funds he profits from, including BP Capital and CEF.
Subcommittee on Select Revenue Recipient of Over Half-Million Dollars in Campaign Cash
A close examination of the campaign contributions given to the 11 members of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Select Revenue shows that, over the past two election cycles, members of the Subcommittee have received over half a million dollars in campaign cash from the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org.
Roughly three-fifths of those contributions went to two men on the Subcommittee – Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Richard Berg (R-ND). Between the two of them, in the past two election cycles, they received $314,111 in campaign contribution from the oil and gas industry, ranking second and third in campaign contributions raked in from those sectors in 2010, respectively.
Boustany and Berg – Vested Interests in Gas Industry
Both Boustany and Berg also serve in congressional districts in which key elements of the liquified natural gas industry sit.
Boustany's district, the 7th Congressional District of Lousiana, is located in the southwest corner of Louisiana, home to Cheniere Energy, Inc., operator of the currently existing Sabine Pass LNG Terminal and the future Creole Pass LNG Terminal, both of which liquefy natural gas into a product that can be placed on the export market.
In a ground-breaking August report titled “Pipe Dreams: What the Natural Gas Industry Doesn't Want You to Know About Fracking and Energy Independence,” Food and Water Watch wrote this of Cheniere:
Cheniere has been perhaps the most active advocate of exporting American LNG to foreign markets. Charif Souki, CEO of Cheniere, wants to retrofit import terminals for export, and has been investing billions of dollars and soliciting commitments from other companies, even in the face of skepticism from other industry members.
Berg, on the other hand, is the sole member of the House of Representatives in North Dakota, under which sits the Bakken Shale formation, part of the larger Williston Basin formation, under both of which sits tens of billions of gallons of potentially recoverable oil and gas.
The New Yorker magazine took note of both formations, writing an article titled “Kuwait on the Prairie” in April. CNBC's Jim Cramer, host of the show “Mad Money,” has also taken notice, and hosted his show there in late-August.
Next Steps for NAT GAS Act? Follow the Lobbying Money Trail
The NAT GAS Act has thus far conquered steps one, two, and three in the bill passage process - first, it gained four bipartisan initial sponsors; second, it gained scores of bipartisan co-sponsors; and now third, it has had a committee hearing. What's next? Following the money trail lends a hint.
A peak at the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org NAT GAS Act lobbying database shows that scores of corporations have lined up to lobby for or against the bill – 81, in total – with 62 of them lobbying in support of the bill's passage.
These 62 corporations spent $25.35 million dollars lobbying Congress in the second quarter, which ended June 30. Figures for the third quarter, which ends on September 30, may well show that these same corporations have lobbied Congress at least as intensely in recent months, especially in the run-up to Friday's hearing.
In modern American politics, money speaks, and the dirty gas industry is proving that again as we watch how this NAT GAS bill is progressing Inside The Beltway.