Friday, August 22, 2003

Not that you couldn't have guessed, but the folks who may well have caused the recent blackout are in bed with Bush, as Joe Conason points out in The New York Observer:

While Kenneth (Kenny Boy) Lay may no longer be in a position to raise money and conceive policy for George W. Bush and Tom DeLay, other influential executives remain eager to fulfill his role. Among them was Anthony J. Alexander of Ohio’s First Energy Corp., the firm whose failing transmission lines near Lake Erie seems to have kicked off the blackout. As a deregulation enthusiast and loyal Republican, Mr. Alexander raised more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000, thus earning distinction as a "Bush Pioneer."

All of the hundred or so checks delivered from First Energy’s donors to the G.O.P.’s accounts were marked with an "industry code"—and in due course, the grateful recipients of the company’s largesse appointed Mr. Alexander to the Bush administration’s Energy Transition Team. (That favor must have been particularly gratifying to him, since the departing Clinton administration had sued First Energy for violating the Clean Air Act.) Whether he also showed up as an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force remains a mystery, since the administration still refuses to disclose any of the task force’s documents. But public records show that First Energy’s executives and political-action committee have given about $2 million to (mainly Republican) politicians since 1999.

Today's New York Times has more:

In the 2002 federal elections, FirstEnergy's political action committee more than doubled spending from 1998, to $246,200. The company and its employees made more than $1 million in federal contributions in that cycle, with 70 percent going to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company's top two officers, Anthony Alexander, the president, and H. Peter Burg, the chief executive and chairman, have been major fund-raisers for President Bush.

In 2001, FirstEnergy was one of several big utilities that hired Haley Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chairman, to lobby the Bush administration to encourage the president to back down from a campaign pledge to set limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide. Mr. Barbour sent a letter in March 2001 to Vice President Dick Cheney on behalf of the utilities, questioning whether environmental policy "still prevails over energy policy with Bush-Cheney, as it did with Clinton-Gore."

Two weeks later, Mr. Bush announced he would not support legislation capping carbon dioxide emissions. His staff denied industry lobbying had played a role.

Read that whole Times article, by the way. Choice quotes:

Boric acid [at FrirstEnergy's Davis-Besse nuclear plant] had seeped through cracks in plant control rods that pass through to the highly radioactive zone, where superpressurized water is used to cool the plant while it is creating energy. In fact, investigators found that the acid had eaten through the carbon steel part of the reactor vessel head, leaving only a thin stainless steel lining intact. Yet a backup system intended to cool the nuclear fuel in the event of a breach in the reactor vessel was handicapped because an undersize drainage screen could easily become blocked.

Taken together, what had been created is now widely considered the most serious nuclear plant incident in the nation since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

And, on a lighter note:

[FirstEnergy's] New Jersey subsidiary has come under fire for frequent blackouts, for inadequate maintenance and for allowing stray electricity to run through the ground, leaving residents of Brick, N.J., tingling when they step into pools and Jacuzzis.

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