In one last-minute session before the August recess, the Senate renewed the Patriot Act, dispensed pork in the Transportation bill, repealed the Depression-era Private Utility Company Holding Act (PUCHA), shielded the gun industry from its own negligence and passed the Central American Free Trade Act – all measures with no redeeming social value.
The Senate version of the Patriot Act is less bad than the House’s version, since Congressman Pat Roberts dropped his quest to expand the use of mail covers and administrative subpoenas (which needn’t be issued by a judge) in so-called terrorism investigations. But Roberts made it clear that he and his constituents would reassert those demands in the fall when the bill goes to a joint House-Senate conference.
The real intention of the energy bill was to revive the nuclear industry and to repeal PUHCA, a law that prevented utility mergers, and for seven decades kept consumer energy costs in the U.S. lower than in European countries. In addition, the bill provided $2.9 billion for the coal industry and $2.6 billion for oil and gas companies, and what Public Citizen called “cradle-to-grave subsidies for the nuclear industry.”
The political climate in Congress was in part nurtured by the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision not to release its annual report, due July 26, which would have revealed that average fuel efficiency has declined to 20.5 miles per gallon, down from a high of 27.5 miles per gallon in 1987.
PUCHA was adopted in response to the consolidation and pyramiding of utilities through holding companies in the 1920s. The Federal Trade Commission concluded in 1928 that the holding company structure was a menace both to consumers and investors.
By 1932, 45 percent of the nation’s entire energy supply was generated by just three companies. After the crash, 53 highly leveraged holding companies became insolvent, casting off $1.8 billion of secured debt.
With the repeal of PUCHA, utilities will become more exempt from effective state and local oversight. Didn’t we learn anything from Enron?
And eager to protect the economic future of the firearms industry, both houses of Congress approved the National Rifle Association-supported bill to shield gun manufacturers and distributors from liability when their products are used to commit a crime. The only exception to this free pass was one offered by Senator Bill Frist, requiring child safety locks on each new weapon, a tactical gesture to ensure passage of the bill.
This measure was a response to the incremental success groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have had in arguing that gun violence disproportionately affects African-Americans.
The NAACP won several stages of its 2003 federal lawsuit, contending that only a few gun distributors supply the vast majority of guns that result in homicides, which are the leading cause of death for black youth between 15 and 34 years old. The litigation was assisted by the former head of the gun industry trade association, who had come to believe that “a bunch of right-wing wackos at the NRA were controlling everything.”
Similar suits have been brought by state and local attorney generals, and in January of this year, the United States Supreme Court permitted a California case to proceed against Glock Corporation for negligence and public nuisance. In that case, postal worker Joseph Ileto was slain at the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center in 1999 by a Glock-wielding convicted felon and white supremacist, Buford Furrow.
Whether or not John Roberts is confirmed to the Supreme Court, bear in mind that gun and oil lobbyists never cease their daily efforts to pervert justice, campaign finance laws notwithstanding.
The People’s Lawyer is a project of the Nat’l Lawyers Guild, NYC Chapter. Contact the chapter at www.nlgnyc.org or at (212) 679-6018.