Dec. 16, 2004 – Bushâ€™s pick for the next Energy Secretary, Sam Bodman, spent fourteen years at the helm of Cabot Corp., a Boston-based chemical company with a spotty environmental record, leaving many conservationists worried about the effects his tenure there may have on the nationâ€™s natural resources.
Bodman, 66, called his appointment the culmination of his lifeâ€™s work when President Bush made the announcement last week. "I started as a teacher in chemical engineering at MIT, spent seventeen years helping create and manage Fidelity Investments, and then spent fourteen years managing Cabot Corp., a global chemical company. Each of these activities had to do with the financial markets and the impact of energy and technology on those markets," he said.
Refrains of "Sam who?" echoed through the Capitol following the announcement. Currently deputy secretary of the US Treasury, Bodman is a mystery to Washington insiders. Some believe his selection is strategic, virtually assuring Vice President Cheneyâ€™s continued grip on the department.
Karen Wayland, legislative director for Natural Resources Defense Council, told Reuters, "I think itâ€™s pretty clear over the last four years that the energy plan the administration is pushing is taking its direction from the Vice Presidentâ€™s office."
Cheney heads a special task force created by Bush early in his first term. The National Energy Policy Development Group boasts high-ranking administration officials as members and has met frequently with energy executives behind closed doors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks the effect of money in politics, Bush received almost $4.5 million from the energy/natural resource industry for his 2004 election campaign.
As Energy Department chief, Bodman will be charged with pushing the administrationâ€™s energy agenda and policies with likely high environmental impact.
With current energy head Spencer Abrahamâ€™s impending departure, long-time Bush ally Don Evans championed Sam Bodman to fill the post. Analysts say liquefied natural gas, with which Bodman has extensive experience, will be a large part of future energy supplies -- an idea strongly pushed by the current administration.
If Sam Bodman wins Senate approval, the former president of Fidelity Investments will administer a multibillion dollar budget, one third of which is earmarked for the Energy Departmentâ€™s environmental responsibilities like clearing the nationâ€™s nuclear waste. Bodman will manage development of "clean coal" technologies and hydrogen powered automobiles, both items on the presidentâ€™s agenda. He will also be in charge of helping Bush circumvent a court order and push through completion of a nuclear waste disposal center in the Yucca Mountains of Nevada (previous coverage).
Bodmanâ€™s biggest challenge, however, will be convincing the public that the way to independence from foreign energy is through an oil rig in Alaska. Whether or not the public is convinced, Bodman will have to acquire Congressional approval for President Bushâ€™s long-term goal of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Drilling in the 19 million acre sanctuary has been intensely debated for two decades. The idea of choosing a minimal increase in oil reserves at the expense a virtually untouched, ecologically rich region has enraged conservationists. Drilling in the Wildlife Refuge is also seen as a slippery slope by environmentalists who say that it could open the door to placing other protected lands at the energy industryâ€™s disposal.
Industry leaders are detailing other ideas for Bodmanâ€™s tenure. Scott Segal told Waste News: "First he must act to maintain fuel diversity, including the robust use of coal in our economy. This means supporting clarification of [air pollution rules] and the adoption of Clear Skies legislation on Capitol Hill. Second, the new secretary must provide leadership to adopt comprehensive energy legislation." Segal is the head of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a lobbying group started by FirstEnergy, Duke Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. FirstEnergy was a top Bush contributor in 2000 and gave $306,950 to Republicans in the 2004 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
As Energy Secretary, Bodman will have a tough time pushing through the controversial regulations. A program ridiculed by environmental groups as a political smokescreen, the so-called Clear Skies Act is a watered-down version of its landmark predecessor, the Clean Air Act. The Bush-Cheney package introduces generally lower air pollution standards. Incentives, not legality, pulse at the heart of the measure.
Questionable White House initiatives aside, Bodmanâ€™s own environmental record has conservationists worried.
As Chair of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Climate Change Science and Technology, Bodman developed the administrationâ€™s Climate Change Strategic Plan, an outline of industry regulations. Called "dense" by the Natural Academy of Sciences, many analysts criticized for lacking attainable goals and agency responsibilities.
Furthermore, Knight Ridder News Service reports that Securities and Exchange Commission filings show Cabot Corp. had a weak environmental record and paid hefty fines on two occasions on Bodmanâ€™s watch as CEO and director.
Currently, Cabotâ€™s facilities in Boyertown and Reading, PA are at the center of legislation alleging decades old beryllium poisoning.