three decades now, hundreds of electrical power,
oil refining, and chemical plants have been
pumping toxic particles into the air over Texas.
These plants produce as much smog-forming nitrogen
oxides as 18 million cars, making Texas the
state with the largest volume of air pollution
in the nation. The Texas Legislature passed
the Texas Clean Air Act in 1971, but plants
built before the law was passed don't have to
comply with its rules.
In December 1996, staff members of the Texas
Natural Resources and Conservation Commission,
the state environmental agency, began meeting
with representatives from eleven companies to
talk about reducing the emissions of the plants
that benefited from the grandfather clause.
But when it looked like the commission was moving
toward eliminating the exemption for those plants,
energy-industry executives balked and headed
straight for the governor's office.
On January 14, 1997, Bush's environmental director,
John Howard, told his boss in a memo: "Industry
has expressed concern that the TNRCC is moving
too quickly and may rashly seek legislation
In early March, Bush tapped Vic Beghini, an
executive with Marathon Oil Company, and Ansel
Condray, an executive with Exxon Corporation,
to come up with a plan to let the industry comply
voluntarily with the state's clean-air regulations.
According to documents obtained by the Sustainable
Energy and Economic Development Coalition, an
environmental group based in Austin, Beghini
and Condray then presented the finished proposal
at a June 19, 1997, meeting of about forty industry
executives. In his notes of the meeting, James
Kennedy of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company,
the giant chemical manufacturer, wrote, "Amoco
presented the paper to the group at the meeting
as something that has been agreed to at high
levels and was not subject to change."
If Kennedy felt a little left out of the process,
the plan drafted by Beghini and Condray, and
backed by Governor Bush, would shaft the public
even more so. "The concept put forward
was that the industry group and the Governor's
Office would develop the program, then take
it to some broad-based group, including public
representatives, who would then tweak it a little
bit and approve it," Kennedy noted.
Sure enough, on September 10, 1997, the TNRCC
announced the formation of the Clean Air Responsibility
Enterprise committee. The CARE committee's job
was to come up with a voluntary program to reduce
emissions from grandfathered facilities. But
the CARE committee simply rubber-stamped the
proposal that Exxon, Amoco, and Bush had already
signed off on.
The smoke and mirrors weren't over yet. A list
of incentives for companies that participated
in the governor's plan sent to TNRCC commissioner
Ralph Marquez from Howard suggested that "a
recognition program for participants may be
appropriate to encourage participation."
Thus, industry would be rewarded with free publicity
for complying with the new regulations that
they had proposed.
On March 31, 1998, Bush appeared at a press
conference flanked by executives of Exxon, Amoco,
and Texas Utilities, among others, to announce
that twenty-six companies - representing sixty
of the 831 pollution-producing plants in the
state, had pledged to reduce emissions by 15,000
tons a year. "We're committed," Bush
said, "to clean air in the state of Texas."
But whether companies cut back on emissions
didn't really matter to the governor or to the
industry. Du Pont's Jim Kennedy had realized
that way back at the June 19, 1997, meeting,
where the plan was first presented. "The
concept paper has no 'meat' with respect to
actual emissions reductions," Kennedy wrote.
"One of the leaders actually stated that
emissions reductions was not a primary driver
for the program."
As far as Bush was concerned, his voluntary
compliance plan was already a rousing success,
a model of public-private partnership good enough
to take on the road to the presidential primaries.
Three weeks after Bush announced that he was
a candidate for President, his spokesman, Scott
McClellan, boasted: "Governor Bush was
the first governor in Texas to tell grandfathered
industries, 'It's time to clean up.' Voluntary
programs are working in Texas."
Well, not really. A study by the Environmental
Defense Fund published six months after Bush's
press conference found that only three of the
twenty-six companies had actually scaled back
their emissions. (In 1999, under increasing
public pressure, Bush finally signed a bill
that forces power plants to cut their emissions
in half by 2003.)
The energy industry was still grateful for Bush's
efforts. According to a study by Public Research
Works, Bush raised $566,000 from the grandfathered
polluters for his two gubernatorial campaigns.
And from March 4, 1999, to March 31, 1999, Bush
raised $316,300 from PACs, employees, lobbyists,
and lawyers for grandfathered companies for
his presidential campaign. They included: Enron
(Bush's No. 1 career patron); Vinson & Elkins
(Bush's No. 3 career patron), a law firm that
represents Enron and Alcoa, a grandfathered
polluter; and companies owned by the Bass family
(Bush's No. 5 career patron). Another such company
with grandfathered plants is Sterling Chemicals,
Inc., a subsidiary of Sterling Group (Bush's
No. 6 career patron). All told, the four patrons
have given Bush at least $1.4 million over the
course of his career.
Texas "litigious heaven," Bush promised
during his first campaign for governor that,
if elected, he would push legislation to limit
frivolous lawsuits. He argued that fewer lawsuits
would lead to lower insurance rates for average
Texans. Of course, limiting the right to sue
would also benefit insurers with deep pockets
who end up footing the bill for many multimillion-dollar
Bush has raised millions from companies that
have pushed "tort reform." Farmers
Insurance Group, Inc., based in Los Angeles,
is Bush's No. 8 career patron. During his two
gubernatorial races, Bush also collected $4.5
million from officers and board members of Texans
for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Civil Justice
In June 1995, Bush followed through on his campaign
promise and signed a series of bills that limit
the access of victims to the court system and
the amount of damage awards they can receive.
Bush also signed into law measures that make
it harder for consumers to sue real estate agents
and that make it more difficult for them to
collect damages when they're injured by more
than one party.
Limiting personal-injury lawsuits did produce
savings for insurance companies, but that money
went straight to the industry. From 1996 to
1998 insurance companies made a $3 billion profit
while the average Texan's auto insurance rates
continued to climb.
Texans have paid the price in other ways, too.
When a jury in San Antonio found that an oil
company's lax safety measures had caused the
death of a refinery worker, it wanted to send
a message by ordering the company to pay $42.5
million in damages to the worker's widow. But
thanks to the laws Bush signed, the company
walked away paying only $200,000. "Two
hundred thousand dollars is just pocket change,"
Wilda Hosch, a juror in the case told the New
York Times. "They'll just write it off."
May 18, 1998, Eliza May, the executive director
of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, was
summoned to the office of Joe Allbaugh, Governor
Bush's chief of staff. Waiting for her were
Allbaugh, Margaret Wilson, the governor's general
counsel, and State Senator John Whitmire of
Houston. Whitmire pressed May for details of
her agency's investigation into the embalming
practices of Service Corporation International,
the world's largest "death care" company,
which is based in Whitmire's district. The only
trouble was that Robert Waltrip, the founder
and chairman of SCI, and Johnnie B. Rogers,
Jr., the company's lawyer, were also in the
May said later that the meeting was "clearly
designed to intimidate me."
The meeting was prompted by a six-page complaint
that Waltrip wrote and hand-delivered a month
earlier to May and Governor Bush.
Waltrip is not in the habit of delivering his
own mail, but he had a lot at stake in the investigation.
He is SCI's largest individual shareholder,
and his mother and children are on the company's
board of directors.
In recent years, Waltrip and his company have
given more money to Bush than to any other politician.
Waltrip is also a longtime supporter of Bush's
father. He contributed to the elder Bush's congressional
campaigns in the 1960s, donated more than $100,000
to the Bush Presidential Library, and paid the
former President to speak before a funeral directors
The day Waltrip dropped off his complaint to
Allbaugh, Bush reportedly spotted him and said,
"Hey Bobby, are those people still messing
with you?" Waltrip replied yes.
May alleges that during the funeral agency's
investigation, Governor Bush allowed two men
who work for SCI to serve on the Texas Funeral
Service Commission, even though state law prohibits
a single funeral company from having more than
one seat on the commission. The two commissioners,
Leo Metcalf and Robert Duncan, made several
attempts to slow the agency's investigation.
poured money in all the right places and kicked
our butts," Kenneth Hughes, a member of
the Texas Funeral Service Commission, said.
"They told us, 'We'll go to the governor
and get this thing thrown out.' I didn't think
they were that strong."
Despite the mounting political pressure, May
and her staff pressed on, and in August 1998
the commission's complaint review committee
fined SCI $450,000. The company appealed the
fine. But the agency's actions did not go unpunished.
In January 1999 the Texas Funeral Service Commissioners
put May on administrative leave.In March, the
House Appropriations Committee of the Texas
Legislature voted to eliminate the agency's
budget. In the end, the agency survived, but
May did not. The commissioners fired her on
February 8, 1999. May filed a wrongful termination
suit against the agency and SCI, which is still
pending. Bush has refused to testify in her
Since then, the company's embalming practices
have become the subject of a lawsuit filed by
the family of North Texas TV anchor Frank "Tres"
Hood. After the thirty-one-year-old died of
colon cancer in July 1998, his family took his
body to an SCI-owned funeral home in Wichita
Falls, Texas, which in turn sent it to an SCI-owned
funeral home in Dallas -- one of the facilities
that May and her staff had investigated -- without
the family's knowledge. After Hood's body was
entombed in the family crypt, it leaked so much
fluid that his wooden casket broke, and his
relatives had to foot the bill to clean it up.
The case is still pending.
denies pulling strings for anyone.
insinuation that I have used my office to help
my friends is simply not true," Bush told
a reporter for the Houston Chronicle
in August 1998. "I don't talk to my business
associates about doing business with state government
one way or another."
But Bush's own words and actions prove that
he mastered the art of greasing the wheels of
politics with favors long ago.
After his father was elected in 1988, Bush was
tapped to head what was known around the White
House as the Silent Committee, an informal group
of about fifteen hard-core Bush supporters.
Bush's assignment: to see that members of the
Silent Committee landed jobs in the administration.
Long after his father was sworn in and he returned
to Texas, Bush continued to intervene on behalf
of his father's backers. According to Chase
Untermeyer, a former director of personnel in
the Bush Administration, the President's son
would "call to say someone on the Silent
Committee list was being jerked around by a
Cabinet officer. I'd frequently get calls asking
that I see someone or not forget someone."
In 1994, Bush lobbied on behalf of catalog baron
Roger Horchow, who unsuccessfully sought the
chairmanship of the National Endowment of the
Arts. Asked by reporters why he pushed so hard
for Horchow, Bush replied, "He gave money
to my father."
If Bush is elected, he already has a long list
of contenders for his own Silent Committee.
The only question left would be who gets to