The Coastal Post - June, 1996

Corporations Rake In Profits Of Congressional Warfare

BY SANDY LEON

Out of the murky ruins of a congressional debate deprived of all meaning by political subterfuge and untouchable corporate interests, a clear victor emerges. Guess who it is.

Clues are as follows:

This year alone the government has already lost nearly $2 billion in revenue because of its inability to collect industry taxes. Quibbling between Congress and the White House over the language of a toxic cleanup law already gutted in spirit is the stopping point.

The debate between legislators and the executive branch of government has degenerated into largely one of "how best to fool citizens into thinking their health and safety interests are being served." That mockery is responsible for stalling legal collection of corporate monies owed the federal government. Losses to the public revenue are mounting daily.

Beneficiaries of the stalemate are primarily petroleum and chemical companies, who as a direct result of the gridlock, have stopped paying millions into the environmental Superfund for toxic waste cleanup.

The government stopped collecting Superfund taxes in January because Congress was unable (or unwilling) to reach a compromise with President Clinton on reauthorization of the toxic cleanup law. Under normal circumstances the Superfund tax generates some $4 million a day, mainly from chemical and petroleum companies.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner says the loss of revenue is not only unfair, but "will soon jeopardize communities waiting for cleanup action." Still Republican congressional forces are refusing to reinstitute the tax until, as one spokesperson put it, "the issue is resolved," which means until Republicans get their way.

Arguably and to a lesser degree, airline passengers who save a few dollars each, because Congress has allowed a federal tax on air tickets to expire, also benefit from the stalemate. Both the airline tax and the environmental cleanup funds are counted as revenue in calculating the budget deficit.

Just say balance the budget

The Republican mandate to balance the budget, no matter what, gets curiouser and curiouser. House Republicans who recently pushed through legislation for a temporary repeal of the 4.3 cent gasoline tax seem not to realize that the repeal of this tax combined with the failure to collect taxes due the federal government casts an eerie light on the much-touted budget-balancing act.

The damage being incurred under the guise of budget balancing will likely come back to haunt us in years to come. Congressional attempts to slash the funding that pays for enforcement of environmental protection laws and research into renewable energy sources (that is, not coal, oil or nuclear), are cynical at best. Factor in the brutal stabs aimed at enviscerating what's left of OSHA and the Clean Air Act, and a grotesque picture begins to emerge.

Put all that together with a little-mentioned quid pro quo style agreement between Republican military hawks and Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council to keep the bloated military budget off the negotiating table, and the national stage darkens to ominous.

President Clinton's complicity in this ugly game amounts to nothing less than collaboration that only his own corporate ties can begin to explain.

Corporate cost-cutting costs consumer lives

Not only are the current political gesticulations obscene, they may be dangerous to your health as well. Corporate cost-cutting under the guise of downsizing and deregulation are proving to be risky territory for the consumer.

The demise of Valu-Jet's Flight 592, a 27-year-old DC-9 cost-saving device, and the news of still another disastrous oil spill along the coast of Galveston, Texas, are two grim reminders among many—far too numerous to list—that what's good for the corporation is rarely good for the consumer. As divergent as these two examples are, they have at least one thing in common. They both serve as potent symbols of all that is wrong with corporate and federal cost-cutting measures.

After the Galveston oil spill, one oil company executive assured the local media that voluntary agreements with respect to pollution laws were being honored by the industry.

Marci Glazer, an environmentalist and spokesperson for the Center for Marine Conservation, disagrees. Environmental studies show that not only have spills, dumping and pollution reached alarming levels, but says Glazer, "The Coast Guard is asleep at the helm of oil spill protection for California."

Coast Guard Commander Rob Lorrigan responded by ridiculously asserting that, "regulations mean enforcement." Unfortunately, that's not the way it works. What little money has in past years been allotted to enforcement of environmental regulations is now on the congressional chopping block.

The absence of political will to safeguard and protect our resource base is the stuff of environmental suicide. It results in half-hearted enforcement that makes a mockery of federal regulations such as the Oil Pollution Act, passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

That law is supposed to require all new oil tankers sailing U.S. waters to have double hulls. It also stipulates that all old tankers must be fitted with double hulls by the year 2015. But relatively few ships have been fitted with hulls and little is being done to alleviate the problem. "The Coast Guard is years delinquent on implementing the regulations set down in the 1990 federal act," one Sierra Club activist told the Associated Press.

Enforcement is made still more difficult, according to the Coast Guard, because, "most of the recommended exclusion zones extend beyond U.S. territorial waters—that means they will involve international accords." Provisions under both the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allow other countries to challenge U.S. environmental laws under the auspices of, "impeding free trade." Market forces have made the environment an extremely hostile place to be.

Because meaningful debate has been effectively preempted by corporate interests, the value of information, as we approach the turn of the century, should be viewed with skepticism. Pre-election frenzy only partially explains the lack of substantive attention by the media to the phenomenon of environmental suicide brought on by insatiable corporate greed and the canonization of military-industrial interests.

Instead of analyzing the details of a largely fabricated debate, the public interest would be better served by scrupulous attention to corporate sanctity and how it impacts on democracy and the environment.