BOOKS & THE CULTURE Riding the Global Gravy Train BY RABBI MAHAJAN Power Play: A Study of the Enron Project Abhay Mehta. Orient Longman. 226 pages. or six years in a row Fortune magazine has voted Enron, the Houston-based natural gas and power company, the most innovative corporation in the United States. With the world’s largest online trading site, last year Enron traded tens of billions of dollars of natural gas contracts; the corporation’s total revenues exceeded 100 billion dollars. Enron assiduously cultivates its corporate image, donating Enron Field to the grateful sports fans of Houston and operating charities like the PGE-Enron Foundation, which gives hundreds of thousands annually to worthy and non-controversial causes in Oregon. Lulled by corporate spin, Americans have largely ignored the process by which, in one decade, this tiny company metastasized into a global giant62nd on the Forbes Global 500 list last year and moving up. Although innovation is certainly part of the story, far more significant are old-fashioned corporate practices such as influence-peddling and human-rights violations. Enron’s exploits in the presidential campaign, ably chronicled in The Observer, include donating $555,000 in soft money for the Republican Party and allowing candidate George W. Bush the use of Enron corporate jets. According to a study by the Los Angeles Times, Enron and associates gave nearly $400,000 to Bush’s two gubernatorial campaigns, nearly one third of total corporate contributions. Rewards for this generosity include Bush’s introduction of the 1995 Environmental Health and Safety Audit Privilege Act, the most industry-friendly of the nation’s 12 polluter immunity acts, written largely by an industry representative. Under the terms of the act, polluters that make private, internal audits are virtually exempted from complying with pollution regulations. Audits are then treated as privileged information, unavailable to litigants in civil or even criminal cases. Enron has frequently filed for protection under the act. Similarly, in 1996, Bush derailed legislative efforts to tackle the problems caused by companies that had been grandfathered in under the 1971 Texas Clean Air Act. The net result is that Houston’s air quality is now the worst in the nation, and every major metro area in Texas is slated to move into noncompliance with federal air-quality norms. Enron’s international dealings, however, are not as well known here. Enron’s power plant and natural gas operations involve more than 30 countries, and frequently involve allegations of bribery, coercion, and human-rights violations. After the Gulf War, Enron hired former Secretary of State James Baker to lobby Kuwait for the contract to rebuild the Shuaiba power plant. Enron got the contract, even though a German firm underbid it by almost half. In 1995, Enron used thenNational Security adviser Anthony Lake and the U.S. Embassy to coerce Mozambique into granting them a contract to develop the lucrative Pande natural gas fields. Pratap Chatterjee of Corporate Watch reports that according to Mozambique’s natural resources minister, “There were outright threats to withhold [U.S. Agency for International] development funds if we didn’t sign, and sign soon. [U.S.] diplomats, especially [the deputy chief of the Embassy], pressured me to sign a deal that was not good for Mozambique. It was as if he was working for Enron?’ But by far the worst of Enron’s international projects, arousing the most opposition, is a liquefied natural gas Western Indian province that is home to Bombay. Initiated in 1992, just as India was opening its economy to foreign investment, the project is one of the largest private industry-government contracts in the world. It calls for the payment of roughly $35 billion over 20 years to the Dabhol Power the chief shareholder \(Bechtel Enterprises and General Electric each have 10 percent and Maharashtra’s first phase of the project, a 740megawatt plant, came online in August 1999. The second and final phase come online later this year. lmost from the start, the project Ahas been a major focus of political contention, as journalist Abhay Mehta has superbly documented in Power Play. Originally trained at MIT as a molecular biologist, Mehta combines an encyclopedic knowledge of the power industry with a citizen’s frustration at corruption and lack of accountability on the part of government officials and corporate 4/13/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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