BP Disaster Is Cheney’s Katrina

Bush Administration Actions Created Unsafe Circumstances

The Bush administration repeatedly rolled back clean energy funding and oil and gas regulations that could have kept Americans safe, writes Rebecca Lefton.

President Bush delivers his 2006 State of the Union address, where he famously stated that “America is addicted to oil.” (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Bush delivers his 2006 State of the Union address, where he famously stated that “America is addicted to oil.” (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Read also: The Prelude to Cheney’s Katrina by Joshua Dorner

BP’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is without a doubt former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Katrina. President George W. Bush and Cheney consistently catered to Big Oil and other special interests to undercut renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives that would set the United States on a more secure clean energy path.

Oil companies raked in record profits while benefitting from policies they wrote for themselves. These energy policies did nothing for our national security and left consumers to pay the price at the pump and on their energy bills, which rose more than $1,100 during the Bush administration.

gas prices and oil profits soar under the bush administration

The following timeline outlines the administration’s direction, consequent legislative steps and missteps, and the resulting circumstances that provided advantages to Big Oil companies and led to the establishment of a regulatory system that created the BP oil disaster.


Cheney’s secret dirty energy task force crafts national energy policy. The Bush administration released the National Energy Policy Report on May 16. President Bush appointed Vice President Cheney—who gave up his title as CEO of oil and gas company Halliburton to take on his new role—with developing a new energy policy swiftly after taking office. But Cheney’s relationship with Halliburton did not end. Cheney was kept on the company’s payroll after retirement and retained around 430,000 shares of Halliburton stock.

The task force report was based on recommendations provided to Cheney from coal, oil, and nuclear companies and related trade groups—many of which were major contributors to Bush’s presidential campaign and to the Republican Party. Oil companies—including BP, the National Mining Association, and the American Petroleum Institute—secretly met with the Cheney and his staff as part of a task force to develop the country’s energy policy.

The proposal clearly represented the interests of dirty industry, including opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and encouraging oil and gas production, coal output, and the development of biofuels and nuclear power.

Only 7 of the 105 recommendations in the plan involved renewable energy. Cheney’s task force report proposed funding the development of clean energy technologies by opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling and earmarking $1.2 billion of bid bonuses from leases in ANWR. The administration was clearly not serious about ending our addiction to oil. Less than two months earlier the president proposed cutting millions from renewable energy programs. The New York Times reported at the time that, “The plan does little for efficiency or renewable energy.”

Renewable energy budget cuts. Bush released the fiscal year 2002 budget on April 9 that included steep cuts for clean energy research and development: “Solar and renewable energy R&D would drop by more than a third; nuclear energy R&D would be almost halved; and energy conservation R&D would fall by nearly 25 percent.”

House energy bill includes $33.5 billion in tax breaks for dirty energy. The House of Representatives on August 2 passed the Securing America’s Future Energy Act, H.R. 4. This special-interest energy bill included $33.5 billion in tax breaks and other incentives over 10 years for the power industry aimed at increasing oil and gas exploration, developing new coal-burning technologies, and promoting nuclear energy. The bill also opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas exploration, a top Bush administration priority. The bill reflected White House priorities laid out in the 2001 plan. An amendment by Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Ed Markey (D-MA) to raise fuel efficiency standards for sport utility vehicles and other light trucks was defeated.


Senate clean energy bill fails. The Senate began acting on a bill proposed in a previous Congress that would have raised fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks and included more incentives for energy conservation and alternative fuels, but no Arctic Refuge drilling. The bill passed the Senate but was not reconciled with the House bill that closely followed the Cheney dirty energy task force proposal.

Renewable energy budget cuts. President Bush released his FY 2003 budget on February 4, which devoted unprecedented funding for research and development at the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Health. It meanwhile reduced research and development funding for biomass, geothermal, and solar energy programs.


House energy bill includes $23.5 billion in tax breaks for dirty energy. The House passed another oil industry handout energy bill, H.R. 6, on March 11 that would allow oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, let companies avoid federal royalty payments on natural gas taken from the Gulf of Mexico, and provide for expedited environmental impact studies. The legislation would hand out $23.5 billion over 10 years in tax breaks to increase oil and gas production and $5.4 billion in subsidies and loan guarantees. The Senate once again passed the 2002 energy bill. The conference report to reconcile the two bills included the administration’s dirty energy policies and did nothing for consumers or clean energy; it was approved by the House but was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate. Yet the Senate still approved billions of dollars in tax credits for the oil and gas, coal, and nuclear industries.

More renewable energy budget cuts. President Bush’s FY 2004 budget once again reduced funding for solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass totaling more than $25 million in cuts. The fossil fuel budget increased around $10 million over 2003 levels.


House passes bill allowing companies to build oil refineries in minority communities. The United States Refinery Revitalization Act passed the House on June 16, but was never made into law. The bill would have made it easier to build or expand oil refineries in areas that the League of United Latin American Citizens argued are “heavily minority populated and already disproportionately impacted by refineries and other industries.” The League and the National Hispanic Environmental Council opposed the bill because of such environmental justice issues.


More renewable energy budget cuts. President Bush’s FY 2006 budget once again cut energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy by about 4 percent; cuts totaled nearly $50 million.

Energy bill includes $27 billion for dirty energy. President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 on August 8. The bill closely resembled Cheney’s 2001 plan and gave $27 billion to coal, oil and gas, and nuclear, and only $6.4 billion for renewable energy. Amendments in the House and Senate to raise fuel efficiency standards for vehicles failed. Amendments in the House to remove provisions limiting state and local roles in the siting of oil refineries also failed, as did measures to ensure environmental justice for minority and low-income communities. Senate amendments requiring a renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2020 and addressing global warming through mandatory limits on carbon emissions were dropped during conference.

Regulations permit oil and gas industry to regulate itself. The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service—the agency responsible for managing oil and gas resources on the Outer Continental Shelf and collecting royalties from companies—decided in 2005 that oil companies, rather than the government, were in the best position to determining their operations’ environmental impacts. This meant that there was no longer any need for an environmental impact analysis for deepwater drilling, though an earlier draft stated that such drilling experience was limited. In fact, MMS “repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly, according to numerous documents and interviews.” And an interior general analysis even found that between 2005 and 2007 MMS officials let the oil industry to fill out their own inspection reports.


Bush: “America is addicted to oil.” President Bush states in the State of the Union Address on January 31 that, “America is addicted to oil.”

A House-passed bill allows drilling in Arctic Refuge. The House passed the American-Made Energy and Good Jobs Act on May 25, which would open oil leases on the coastal strip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—an area of 1.5 million acres. The Arctic Refuge development was once again blocked in the Senate because drilling proponents were unable to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

More budget cuts for renewable energy. President Bush’s 2007 FY budget cut funding for energy conservation by 6.3 percent to $289 million and stopped funding for the geothermal program—although Congress later restored some of this geothermal funding.


Government agency failed to collect more than $865 million in revenues. Investigators from the Interior Department determined that a “top Interior Department official was told nearly three years ago about a legal blunder that allowed drilling companies to avoid billions of dollars in payments for oil and gas pumped from publicly owned waters.” The report found that the Minerals Management Service could have could have collected $865 million in the previous three years alone.

Budget cuts for renewable energy. President Bush’s fiscal year 2008 budget proposed to cut research funds for efficiency and renewable energy by 16 percent, eliminate them for geothermal energy, and leave funding for solar stagnant.

Bush administration opposes expansion of renewable energy. President Bush also threatened to veto the Energy Independence and Security Act because it included a renewable electricity standard and renewable energy tax credits funded by the elimination of many tax subsidies for major oil companies totaling approximately $13 billion. Congress eliminated these provisions from the bill, which President Bush then signed. Bush blocked a request the same day he signed the bill from California and a dozen other states that wanted to adopt global warming pollution standards that would have enhanced fuel economy and saved oil.


Budget cuts for renewable energy. President Bush proposes a 27 percent cut for Department of Energy efficiency and renewable energy programs in the FY 2008 budget.

Bush administration opposes expansion of renewable energy. President Bush opposed House passage of the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act, H.R. 5351, as advised on February 28.

Bush lifts moratorium on offshore drilling. Bush lifted the executive moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts on July 14. This moratorium was put in place in 1990 by Pres. George H.W. Bush. Bush then called on Congress to lift its own annual ban on drilling, as John McCain embraced “drill, baby, drill” that year.

Government agency accepted gifts and engaged in fraternizing and illicit activities. A June 2008 interior general report found that Minerals Management Service officials accepted gifts, engaged in drug use and illicit sex with employees from energy firms, and showed favoritism in handling contracts.

Gasoline prices soared to more than $4.00 per gallon, and oil set an all-time record high price of $147 per barrel in July 2008.

Rebecca Lefton is a Researcher for Progressive Media at American Progress.

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Rebecca Lefton

Senior Policy Analyst