- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

In the middle of another energy crisis and for reasons that have never been clear, Congress’s two pork-barrel kings — Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both Republican appropriators from Alaska who inserted the notorious “Bridge to Nowhere” into last year’s pork-laden highway bill — did their very best in secretive committee negotiations to torpedo the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts.

If the regulatory and environmental-permitting processes are allowed to run their proper course, Cape Wind, which has been embraced by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ralph Nader-founded U.S. Public Interest Research Group, would almost certainly become America’s first offshore clean-energy-generating wind farm. Operating in the federal waters of Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind’s 130 wind turbines could generate enough electricity to supply three-fourths of the needs of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. But not if Messrs. Stevens and Young, who have been doing the legislative dirty work for Ted Kennedy and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, get their way. However, if Congress is even remotely serious about reforming earmarks, the recent legislative subterfuge conducted by Messrs. Stevens and Young will not be permitted to stand.

In response to nationwide, bipartisan outrage, Congress in recent months has rightly sought to reform the widely abused policy of earmarking appropriations (often done in the dead of night) for district-specified pork-barrel projects ranging from museums to bicycle paths to bridges. Another abuse, less well-known but arguably more injurious to an open, transparent democratic process, involves “authorizing earmarks.” These latter earmarks, which are also often crafted in the dead of night during secretive House-Senate conference-committee negotiations, take the form of instructions to implement policies that have (A) never before been introduced in the House or Senate; (B) never before been subjected to public comment or to hearings in either the House or the Senate; and (C) never before been passed by either the House or the Senate.

During the conference committee convened to reconcile House and Senate versions of the Coast Guard authorization bill, an anti-Cape Wind “authorizing earmark” initially proposed by Mr. Young was so troubling that it failed Capitol Hill’s extremely lax smell test. Then, Mr. Stevens, after consulting with Mr. Kennedy, whose Hyannis waterfront mansion overlooks Nantucket Sound, inserted an “authorizing earmark” into the conference report empowering Mr. Romney to unilaterally veto Cape Wind despite the fact that the project would be located solely in federal waters. Statewide surveys show the alternative-and-renewable-energy project enjoys massive popular support. But Mr. Romney, seemingly oblivious to the oil-and-gas energy crisis that financially burdens all the middle- and working-class citizens of the nation he seeks to lead, steadfastly opposes the project. Could this perhaps result from the fact that some of his major fund-raisers own Nantucket mansions and have financed the anti-Cape Wind campaign.

Recently, Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman (New Mexico’s two senators who serve, respectively, as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee) co-authored a letter to the Senate leaders of their parties complaining that Mr. Stevens’s provision “is particularly objectionable” because it “subject the development and implementation of national energy policy on submerged federal lands to the caprice of an individual state governor.” Suggesting a filibuster, Messrs. Domenici and Bingaman have pledged “to oppose allowing the conference report to proceed to a final vote” on the Senate floor unless the provision is removed or corrected.

Meanwhile, in a May 4 letter to Messrs. Stevens and Young, Under Secretary of Energy David Garman warned that “singling out wind generation in this manner could have a chilling impact on the continued investment and growth of this promising renewable energy source” and urged that “this provision be removed from the final bill that will be presented to the president for signature.” Regarding the “chilling impact,” it is worth noting that Lehman Brothers Managing Director Ted Roosevelt IV has convincingly argued that “[t]he language slipped into the Coast Guard conference bill would create a random political risk for offshore wind projects that the financial community could not quantify. That would have a very strong chilling effect in the offshore wind industry for probably a decade, if not a generation.”

Given that the energy stakes are so high, both short-term and long-term, a presidential veto threat is clearly in order.

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