Money and Democracy

Published — March 30, 2001 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Bush’s carbon dioxide flip-flop came through staffer who had lobbied for car-exhaust


President Bush’s decision to abandon his campaign pledge to limit carbon dioxide emissions was routed through a key Bush aide who had lobbied for one of the world’s largest manufacturers of automobile exhaust systems.

The Bush aide, Nicholas Calio, served as a paid lobbyist and worked extensively from 1996 through 1997 for Tenneco Automotive, based in Lake Forest, Ill., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of automobile exhaust systems. Calio had lobbied on Environmental Protection Agency regulations “regarding ozone and particulate matter.”

A review of lobbying records conducted by The Public i shows that Calio and his partners earned $420,000 for lobbying on behalf of Tenneco Automotive. Calio is Bush’s new legislative affairs director — the White House’s top lobbyist to Congress — and held the same job under Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush. Calio’s top deputy at the White House, Kirsten Ardleigh Chadwick, was also a registered lobbyist for Tenneco and a partner of Calio at his lobby shop.

Until recently, Calio and Chadwick also lobbied for Atlantic Richfield Co., formerly one of the country’s largest oil companies and one with strong ties to the Bush family. BP Amoco bought Atlantic Richfield, known as Arco, last year. BP Amoco is the world’s third-largest integrated oil company and has an interest in the debate over carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless, incombustible gas that is a product of respiration and combustion. It is one of several byproducts generated by automobiles and is believed to be a leading contributor to the so-called “greenhouse effect,” linked to rising temperatures around the planet. During the presidential campaign, Bush promised to enact new emissions standards on carbon dioxide, specifically those from electric power plants.

Though others now in the administration have consistently voiced opposition to regulating carbon dioxide emissions, as have several major campaign contributors, the administration changed course only after Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., sent a letter to newly appointed Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Hagel’s letter discussed the efforts of leftover Clinton administration staffers apparently to implement an international treaty on environmental standards and carbon dioxide pollution levels. The treaty is known as the Kyoto protocol.

Hagel got anonymous tip

According to news reports, Hagel was tipped off to the Clinton staffers’ activity by an anonymous letter. Since 1995, Hagel’s second-largest campaign contributor has been electric utility giant Edison International, according to records compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

A Hagel spokeswoman strongly denied that campaign contributions had anything to do with the senator’s decision to raise the emissions issue with the new administration. “He has been working on the issue of climate change for four years . . . even before Kyoto” existed. To imply that the letter was influenced by campaign donations “would be absolutely offending,” said spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke.

The White House said on March 28 that the administration has no plans to implement the Kyoto protocol that the United States signed with other countries in 1997. “I will explain as clearly as I can today and every other chance I get, that we will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people who live in America,” Bush said at his March 29 news conference.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told reporters that while the United States would continue negotiating environmental provisions, it would not carry out the agreement because Congress would never ratify it.

On March 27, The Washington Post reported that Calio had received so many complaints from Hagel and others on Capitol Hill that the carbon dioxide emissions issue was raised at a March 5 domestic policy meeting with the president. Within two days of the meeting, Bush reversed his campaign pledge, deciding not to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions.

When asked to discuss his role in the White House’s policy reversal, Calio laughed and told The Public i he had no comment.

A review of federal lobbying records shows that from 1996 to 1997, Calio was a registered lobbyist for Tenneco Automotive, a $3.5 billion company with 23,000 employees that bills itself as a “leading supplier for exhaust products in North America.” Selling under the brand name of “Walker,” Tenneco produces manifolds, catalytic converters and mufflers for dozens of major auto manufacturers in North America, Europe, Australia and South America. Tenneco representatives declined to comment for this report.

Also lobbied for Arco

Calio and his Washington-based firm, O’Brien Calio, also lobbied for Arco, one of the leading spenders of “soft money’‘ and lobbying expenditures in the oil industry. Soft money is, in the broadest sense, money that comes into the political process through state or federal party committees, interest groups, corporations, labor unions or wealthy individuals that is beyond the regulation of the Federal Election Commission.

Arco has a long history with the Bush family and benefited from a provision inserted by former President George H.W. Bush into the Clean Air Act that promoted reformulated gasoline. One of the indelible images of the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston was of the senior Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle standing on the caboose of Arco’s “Victory Train” at the company’s lavish reception. As president, George H.W. Bush had worked hard, though unsuccessfully, to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Though the Clinton administration declared the reserve hands-off to development, George W. Bush has made it clear that he favors his father’s policy. The majority of Arco’s oil reserves were in Alaska.

O’Brien Calio earned roughly $120,000 per year from Arco until BP Amoco purchased the company.

Former President Bush also benefited financially from the company’s largesse. In February 1998, Bush gave a speech in Japan at a press conference for Global Crossing, a telecommunications company founded by former Arco chairman and Bush friend Lodwrick Cook. Rather than pay the former president in cash, Cook gave Bush shares in the company that within a year were worth more than $14 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

BP Amoco’s recent lobbying reports cite “Clean Air Act Implementation,” “Ozone Transport Assessment Groups,” “National Ambient Air Quality Standards Implementation,” “Global Climate Change Legislation” and “Electric Utility Restructuring” as major areas of focus. BP Amoco spent $1.3 million lobbying the federal government in 2000, according to the reports. The company also contributed more than $900,000 in soft money to the two political parties during the 2000 campaign cycle, with close to 70% going to the Republican National Committee and affiliates. BP Amoco representatives did not return repeated calls.

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