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Follow The Money: In Washington, Everyone's Got An Agenda

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After watching An Inconvenient Truth and sitting through one of Al Gore's PowerPoint presentations, I have just one question remaining: Why is Al Gore pushing Enron's agenda?

Before you decide that I'm delusional, check out my new book, The Big Ripoff : How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money, and my section called "Green: The Color of Money." The book shows how Enron was a key lobbyist for the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change (the Holy Grail of Gore's Crusade), and how almost every environmentalist policy we are being fed by Washington is really a meal ticket for one big business or another.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a fellowship with a think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute - yes, that Competitive Enterprise Institute - which takes donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. My colleagues' motivations come under fire when they oppose some regulation or tax, and many dismiss the arguments of industry-funded groups. The Big Ripoff is about looking at everyone's motivations, so I welcome your scrutiny. But if all industry-funded positions were dismissed--if the media disregarded arguments put forward by anyone connected to a business who stood to profit--than many environmentalist campaigns of the day would also have to get thrown out.

A Carbon Dioxide tax? That's the policy advocated by Duke Energy CEO Paul Anderson, whose company is unusually reliant on coal-fired power plants. Is this altruism for the sake of the planet? Not really: many of Duke's coal plants are in regulated markets where his company has a government-enforced monopoly. If a CO2 tax drives up Anderson's prices, it's not as if anyone can undercut him. Customers pay more, no less coal gets burnt, and Anderson gets good PR.

Ethanol? This is an easy one: Archer Daniels Midland is America's top ethanol producer, and its former chairman Dwayne Andreas was a very generous donor to both parties. Andreas once dropped off an envelope of $100,000 in Richard Nixon's West Wing. He also gave $100,000 to Nixon's opponent Hubert Humphrey. Federal and state policies provide all sorts of subsidies and special tax breaks for ethanol, and now Washington is mandating the use of this corn-based fuel. And, oh yeah, ADM predicts an ethanol shortage now. The potential effect on gas prices is terrifying.

And the Kyoto global warming treaty? Enron pushed it hard. In 1997, Ken Lay met with Clinton and Gore in the White House and boosted the treaty. In 2000, an Enron memo exclaimed that the treaty would be "good for Enron stock!" The company planned to get rich off of brokering a government-created industry in carbon-credit trading. Also, Enron's coal-fired power plants were all in third-world countries unaffected by the treaty.

At this point, the environmentalist asks, "well, who cares who gets rich off of a CO2 tax, ethanol, or Kyoto if all those things are good for the planet?" The Big Ripoff has two responses to that:

1) Pointing out who profits from "green" policy is as legitimate as pointing out who would profit from deregulation or tax cuts--a favorite media pastime. Sure, it doesn't amount to an argument against the policy, but it ought to be considered.

2) The Big Ripoff argues that ethanol subsidies, CO2 taxes, and Kyoto--especially as they are exploited by big business--will not improve the environment. In brief: ethanol evaporates more than gasoline, releasing more smog-causing hydrocarbons; also, the energy intensity of producing ethanol, plus the potential damage to soil from single-crop farms, pose environmental threats in themselves. Under Kyoto, Enron would have had more incentive to expand its third-world coal-fired power plant business. The CO2 taxes wouldn't reduce coal use by regulated power companies, who could pass on the cost no sweat.

These three environmental proposals are typical of Washington policy and the exemplify the Ripoff: Politicians push rules that they say are for our own good. But Washington lobbyists raked in $2.28 billion in 2005, with about $2 billion of that coming from business lobbyists--you can bet they don't invest that much for nothing. Because small business and the average American don't have that sort of access, the policies tend to enrich big business while driving up costs for consumers and taxpayers and choking off entrepreneurs.