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Oil Slicks The President’s Men and a Few Unctuous Congressmen Compromise an Environmental Bill BY JAMES RIDGEWAY Washington, D.C. LESS THAN two months after Earth Day’s noble resolutions were shouted from the rooftops, it’s business as usual in the nation’s capital, where the shipping and oil industries have successfully bottled up legislation aimed at preventing another Exxon Valdez disaster. And as Congress continued to haggle over details of the oil spill bill in conference committee, some four million gallons of oil from the burning Norwegian supertanker Mega Borg poured into the shrimpand fish-rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston. The spill bill is stalled because of two key provisions. One, opposed by oil interests, requires tankers to be more sturdily constructed with double instead of single hulls. The other, favored by the oil companies, would weaken accident liability rules, preempting strong state laws assuring strict company accountability with an outmoded and far more lax international treaty the United States never signed to begin with. Lubing the wheels of Big Oil in the conference committee struggle are four loyal thanes of industry. Two of them believe it or not are members of the Alaskan delegation: Rep. Don Young, a walking deposit box for corporate lobbyists \(in this instance, for the vens, who, you will remember, combs his hair with buttered toast. Both Republicans are .reported to be actively trying to sabotage the double-hull deal. And while it may be cynical and even despicable for a couple of Alaskans to sabotage a law that can only help save the future of their state, the biggest monkey-wrencher on the Hill has to be Congressman Billy Tauzin from Louisiana, the chairman in all but name of the House Merchant Marine Committee. Tauzin is an industry hack of long standing, at the beck and call of both shipping and oil interests. \(The titular chairman, Walter Jones of North Carolina, is with Tauzin in spirit, but his current ailing condition leaves him unable to mount the exquisitely orchestrated, behind-the-scenes screw James Ridgeway is on the staff of The Village Voice, where his articles also appear. Norimitsu Onishi assisted with research on this story. 12 JUNE 29, 1990 MIKE SELF Oil Spill, Port Arthur coveted seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over oil and gas price controls -and the Congressman never bats an eyelash when he opposes them. The oil spill legislation, inspired by the Exxon Valdez disaster, was supposed to have been passed early last summer. Summer turned to fall, fall to winter, winter to spring, and here it is a year later, and they’re still at it. This ought to be an acute embarrassment to that newly heralded lion of the Senate, majority leader George Mitchell of Maine, who has struggled manfully for 14 years to tighten laws on oil spills. Many looked to Mitchell to play the good guy in this story, but according to Capitol Hill insiders, the majority leader struck a deal last year with the fourth eminence grease of spill-bill delay, John Breaux, the Democratic senator from Louisiana. Mitchell is said to have guaranteed that the Senate would not approve a regulation requiring double hulls. That arrangement nearly came unstuck when the full Senate came close to passing a double-hull amendment offered by Washington Senator Brock Adams, former transportation secretary for Jimmy Carter, last fall. Formidable as these four loyal brothers of the Seven Sisters have been, the ultimate fate of the spill bill was decided by the Democratic House leadership. Instead of pushing ahead with the legislation, House Speaker Tom Foley, also from Washington state, delegated the job to his new majority leader \(and eyebrowless perennial presidential candiwas helpful in strengthening the language of the bill, but dropped the ball when it came to appointing the conference committee that would hammer out the bill’s final details. Instead of making sure the House conferees represented a tough environmental position, Gephardt followed parliamentary procedure to the max, selecting members from the proshipping Merchant Marine and Public Works committees, whose chairmen are responsive to shipping and oil concerns. He gave only minor representation to more environmentally minded members of the Interior Committee. So as the Mega Borg burned and oil slicks formed a grimy bathtub ring around Manhattan, Washington fiddled away at the spill bill. But that’s not so surprising. There is little on Capitol Hill that doesn’t run on oil. ASHINGTON IS RICH with the symbolism of the oil industry. President George Bush got his start in the Texas oil business with Zapata Oil, the firm that pioneered offshore oil drilling. His partners then were Hugh and Bill Liedtke, who went on to build Pennzoil into a giant oil, gas, and pipeline firm. James Baker, the secretary of state and the most powerful man in the Administration next to the President, comes from a family that helped found Baker & Botts, the big Houston law firm that for years has been a decisive force in organizing the domestic oil cartel. Robert Mosbacher, Bush’s secretary of commerce, headed up the largest private oil firm in the country before he left Texas for the capital; his company established an exploration partnership with Ferdinand Marcos while Marcos was dictator of the Philippines. In April Teresa Riordan wrote in Common Cause Magazine that the President and his Lone Star pals Baker and Mosbacher have