The annual Independent Petroleum Association of America, a committee session discussed "a more grassroots approach to telling the industry's story in the nation's public schools."
A poll conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, paid for by the American Petroleum Institute, found that over all, public perceptions are relatively low in the area of environmental performance. Rather than clean up their act (such as disbanding the anti-Kyoto Global Climate Coalition) or focusing on conservation methods, Wirthlin Worldwide recommends a general message that emphasizes "how petroleum improves the quality of life" and most importantly, "inoculate[s] against opposition messages."
To achieve inoculation, industry "needs to assuage the guilt of Americans concerned about global warming or the dangers of petrochemicals might feel about overusing petroleum products."
To get good inoculation rates, one apparently needs to start with im-pressionable minds. The Communications Committee asserted that industry needs to do a better job of "teaching children about oil and gas."
Kathryn Ratte of the Political Economy Research Center addressed the group, stating that the problem is that "politically correct environmentalism invaded U.S. public classrooms years ago, and is helping to hold the door shut on your message."
Another problem is that "children resonate with environmental topics." Ratte recommended tailoring industry materials to all subjects, including language arts to get at them from all possible angles.
Ratte also recommended that industry hold teacher workshops "in resorts or campuses in pleasant surroundings" to get educators to use their materials.
At one point, the meeting turned into a fund raising event. The presenters recommended industry also form partnerships with organizations such as the Foundation for Teaching Economics and PERC because "If it has a corporate logo on it, it is propaganda... You need a foot in the door where somebody else is pushing the door open for you...The people best able to push open the door are non-profit education organizations that teachers already think of as being credible," reasoned Ratte.
Conveniently, this method also flows some of the industry money into the coffers of the non-profits and lets them blatantly act as a front for the oil and gas industry. A win-win situation! As another presenter reasoned, a high school freshman will be voting in four years, and a first grader in thirteen. "Thirteen years is not a long time in Corporate America's history.... That is the way you have to approach it," he concluded. Information from American Oil and Gas Reporter, December, 1998).
A bill that creates a perverse incentive to violate agency reporting requirements was reported out of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee today by voice vote, and could be taken up on the floor as early as next week without any hearings. This highly partisan bill will be one of the first bills considered under Speaker Hastert's leadership.
Misleadingly labeled the Small Business Paperwork Reduction Act (H.R. 391), the bill requires agencies to waive civil fines for all first time violators of reporting requirements, whether the behavior was willful or not.
Agencies hardly ever impose fines on first-time violators anyway, but mandating that they waive fines in all cases strips the flexibility in current law, and allows bad actors to put off compliance until they are caught for the first time. Without demonstrating that a problem exists, Rep. David McIntosh (R-IN), the bill's sponsor, has ignored testimony given last year by the Dept. of Justice, EPA, OSHA, and others, warning that H.R. 391 could have severe unintended consequences.
An amendment offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) sought to restore the flexibility provided in current law. The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), which was enacted in 1996 as part of the Contract with America, lays out a framework for issuing civil fines, directing agencies to "establish a policy or program...to provide for the reduction, and under appropriate circumstances for the waiver, of civil penalties for violations of a statutory or regulatory requirement by a small entity." The Kucinich amendment sought to comport with the flexibility of SBREFA while adding new language specifically mentioning first-time violators.
Nonetheless, it was voted down by a margin of 22-17, with Connie Morella (R-MD) as the only member to cross party lines to vote in favor of the amendment. Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), who voted against the bill and for the same amendment on the floor last year, voted against the amendment this time.
We are compiling a list of organizations opposed to this legislation (as well as the private sector mandates bill) to forward to members of Congress. If you would like to be added, please contact Reece Rushing by email at <email@example.com> or phone at 202-234-8494.
Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the world's largest producer of seed corn, and DuPont Co. announced on April 12th that they were discussing a possible combination. Such a deal would give Dupont, the largest chemical corporation in the world, an even larger stake in the production of food.
DuPont, based in Wilmington, Del., owns 20 percent of Pioneer, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa. The two companies are also partners in a joint crop biotechnology venture, Optimum Quality Grains. They reached an agreement in 1997 that DuPont would not increase its position in Pioneer for 16 years.
Its interest in pharmaceuticals and agribusiness has also led DuPont to discuss a possible merger with Monsanto, a large biotechnology and seed company and the parent of the drug maker G.D. Searle, executives who have been briefed on the negotiations have said.
The increasing monopolization of food production by a few, giant agri-business corporations, like Dupont, bodes ill for the efforts by, environmentalists to protection the biosphere from the ravages of factor food production and the fight by small family farmers to survive economically as independent businesses.
Call Marriott the latest in a long line of corporate schoolyard bullies. The hotel chain in March exacted an enormous tax and road improvement sub sidy from the state of Maryland and Maryland's Montgomery County, in exchange for a promise to do nothing.
Actually, the company promised to proceed with existing plans to hire 700 new workers at the headquarters and not to move its headquarters out of Montgomery County and across the border into Virginia.
If the company chooses to expand its current headquarters, the value of the Maryland package will be $31.68 million over 19 years. If the company builds a new headquarters, the value of the Maryland gift will rise to up to $44.17 million.
Maryland offered Marriott the giveaway for one reason: it feared the company would jump to low-tax haven Virginia--an impression stoked both by Virginia and the hotel company. Current Governor James Gilmore III and former Virginia Governor George Allen both tried to seduce company chair Bill Marriott to border hop.
Faced with Virginia's enticements, and with Marriott playing coy about its final decision, Maryland progressively elevated its offer to the hotel company. When Marriott announced that it would stay in Maryland, state officials celebrated their victory over their neighbor.
"Our team is red hot, Virginia's team is all shot," Maryland House Speaker Casper Taylor, a Democrat, told the Washington Post.
But in the bidding war that Marriott forced between Maryland and Virginia, there was only one true winner: Marriott. The state and county subsidies that Marriott extracted from Maryland constitute one of the worst and most indefensible kinds of corporate welfare.
Because such a high percentage of state and local property taxes are allocated to schools, tax abatements of the sort showered on Marriott frequently come at the expense of school funding. Some states wall off school funding from tax abatements--meaning the burden is instead shifted directly to other taxpayers to make up the lost income."
And there is not even the pretense that Maryland-style giveaways create or preserve jobs. Based on company growth, profitability and needs, for example, Marriott had determined to expand its headquarters, irrespective of whether it would receive tax breaks from the headquarter's home state.
Not even proponents of the giveaway deal can rationalize the subsidy on the grounds that it created jobs that would not otherwise have been created--the best they can argue is that they are in Maryland, rather than somewhere else. While Maryland officials can therefore attempt to justify the tax abatements on the grounds that they preserved Maryland jobs, from a broader social point of view it is clear this kind of giveaway is a direct transfer from taxpayers or schools to the company with no reciprocal benefits.
Unfortunately, Marriott's corporate blackmail of Maryland is now the norm in corporate location decisions. These threats are "rampant" and "business as usual," says Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group working to promote accountability among corporations receiving job subsidies.
In many cities and states, virtually no major building is built, no large corporate headquarters lease renewed, no Fortune 500 factory opened, without a slew of tax breaks and related subsidies. The most outrageous example, says LeRoy, is the New York City gift to the New York Stock Exchange--a subsidy of $600 million to $900 million to keep the Exchange from migrating to New Jersey. And each giveaway sets the stage for additional subsidy demands from other large employers.
Similar largesse is rarely bestowed on small business owners, raising the question of why the Big Boys can't pay their fair share, as the little guys do.
Frequently, company threats to move are a bluff. Decisions on where to locate major facilities are generally made based on transportation costs, company history, access to suppliers and other factors that override state and local tax costs. But often enough the threats are real, especially if the choice is between nearby locations.
And it is very difficult for cities and states to know when companies' threats are empty. "It is easy to create a credible appearance' of an intent to move," says LeRoy, and plenty of consultants are ready to present analyses to the public on how a company can save money by locating elsewhere.
The plausibility of the threat notwithstanding, local and state officials that have the backbone to stand up to corporate bullies can often win. If they are going to back down and offer subsidies, LeRoy advises at least demanding contractual guarantees that promised jobs will be created and retained.
An ultimate solution to the problem of corporate mobility will require aggressive national action. Representative David Minge, D-Minnesota, has proposed a feder al excise tax on companies receiving state and local tax breaks--a good first step to take back some of the lunch money that the corporate schoolyard bullies steal from intimidated states, counties and towns. Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.
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