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What the FERC is Going On?
February 5, 2002
by Richard Prasad

The official line from the Bush administration is that Ken Lay and Enron received no special treatment from the White House, that executives from Enron repeatedly called the White House and received the cold shoulder from the fine, upstanding cabinet members of the Bush team.

But as more information leaks out about the meeting between Ken Lay and Vice President Cheney, the more evidence there is that Lay did indeed get preferential treatment from Cheney and the Bush administration.

According to Common Cause, a non-partisan, non-profit group who tracks campaign contributions, Enron gave almost $2 million in the 1999-2000 election cycle. 70% of that money went to Republicans. What did they get in return from the Bush administration? Plenty.

The San Francisco Chronicle published a story recently which said the following, Ken Lay gave a memo to Clay Johnson, President Bush's personnel director. The names of 8 members of FERC, (The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) were suggested by Lay. Of they 8 names Lay suggested, two were appointed by Bush and Cheney, including Pat Wood, now the chairman of FERC.

It seems incredible that a government commission, which is supposed to be free of the influence of private enterprise, can be manipulated in such a blatantly heavy-handed way. The new commissioner of the commission regulating energy prices now had Ken Lay and Dick Cheney to thank for his job.

The new PBS show "Now With Bill Moyers" goes even further. Moyers' show suggests that Lay had a hand in ousting outgoing FERC Chairman Curtis Hebert, because Hebert didn't agree with Lay on the construction of a national energy grid, which would have benefitted Enron a great deal.

Hebert is hardly a liberal, although he was appointed to FERC by Bill Clinton in 1997. he was a Mississippi utility regulator, and a protege of no less than Trent Lott. President Bush thought highly enough of Hebert to name him Chaiman of FERC in January 2001. In the past, Hebert was criticized for being too laissez faire on energy matters, but he opposed Lay on the creation of the national energy grid, and on August 14th, Hebert was replaced by Pat Wood.

At the time, the Bush Administration claimed that Hebert was not forced out, but Moyers show seems to hint that if Hebert had played ball with Lay, Lay would have supported Hebert's continuation as chairman of FERC. Since he did not, Lay in essence said 'off with his head' and Cheney, the Bush administration's hatchet man, told Hebert he was history.

Not only did Hebert oppose the creation of a national eneregy grid, he finally imposed price caps on energy for the Western states in May 2001. Lay was bitterly opposed to price caps on energy as he made clear in the memo to Cheney. So by getting Hebert removed, Lay was doing no less than dictating energy policy to Dick Cheney and the White House. No influence??? Balderdash!

Let's put this in context shall we? During the whole time this immense power struggle was going on California was suffering though rolling blackouts. Governor Gray Davis of California tried to meet with Cheney's energy commission during the rolling blackouts, but according to the San Francisco Chronicle, "was never invited to the meetings." Similar complaints of lack of access to Cheney's energy ommission... sorry.. commission meetings were voiced by California senator Diane Feinstein.

I suppose if Feinstein and Davis had given campaign contributions to Bush, they might have gotten access and quite a bit more.

Fast forward from last April to January 30th 2002, the GAO announced a plan to sue Vice President Cheney over the notes from those private energy commission meetings. Cheney responded by saying that releasing the minutes to those meetings would have a chilling effect on how the President conducts policy. Cheney asserted he's standing on principle to protect future Presidents. Apparently, from the leaks that have already come from the Lay/Cheney meeting, all Cheney looks like he's seeking to protect is his reputation, and that of George W. Bush.

And now comes news that Enron CEO Ken Lay won't testify to Congress. Is anyone surprised by this development? Senator Feinstien, for one, had stated that she was going to ask Lay about his memo to Cheney. Now, the Senate has had to subpoena Lay in order to try to get the answers.

The Bush Administration would like all of us to believe that the events of last April are all a series of coincidences. The huge campaign contributions to Bush, the invitation of Lay to meet with Cheney to discuss energy policy, the memo given to Cheney by Lay through an intermediary. The contents of the memo, not only asking for significant policy changes, but also asking to replace sitting members of FERC. The 'resignation' of conservative FERC chairman Curtis Hebert, because of policy disagreements with Ken Lay. The refusal of Vice President Cheney to release the notes of that meeting with Lay and finally the refusal of Ken Lay to testify before Congress.

Put all these 'coincidences' together and they paint a picture of Ken Lay buying influence from the Bush administration and not only setting energy policy, but deciding who gets to sit on the commission who regulates energy prices. Simply put, quid pro quo.

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