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Chevron-style democracy

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It’s probably irrelevant to the outcome of our national elections, but bodes poorly for the overall state of democracy in our United States. We noted with dismay the revelation published in the The New York Times on Halloween that the US Department of Interior dropped a claim against Chevron over millions of dollars in natural gas royalties.

With a nasty sheriff’s race and a high-stakes judicial race concluded in Guilford County, not to mention simmering distrust continuing around the Greensboro Police Department, you may ask why we should care about a corporation short-changing the federal government by a few million dollars.

If local is our angle, then let’s note that our public schools are in crisis, cash-strapped county governments across North Carolina are seeking ways to offload their share of the Medicaid burden, the state’s mental health system is ready to split apart at the seams and the organization that represents county commissioners in our state is so worried about the budgetary implications of a recent ruling requiring the Guilford County Department of Social Services to keep a young ward’s home out of foreclosure that they’re supporting an effort to overturn it in the appellate courts.

Which brings us back to Chevron, a company that netted $14.1 billion in profits in 2005, and the Interior Department, which controls 68 percent of our nation’s oil and gas reserves.

Why isn’t it a priority for the federal government to maximize revenue from this public asset for the benefit of the citizens? Perhaps it has something to do with the vested interests of those who make decisions on our behalf. Condoleezza Rice is currently managing a disastrous and expensive war in Iraq as US secretary of state. Her rèsumé includes a seat on Chevron’s board of directors.

You may argue correctly that she resigned from that post before going to work for the Bush administration. The problem, of course, is the revolving door. Watch what government officials – Republican and Democrat – do when they leave office: Inevitably, they end up back on the corporate take.

The reason given for Interior’s leniency towards Chevron was “because a department appeals board had ruled against auditors in a separate case.” The frequency of such concessions is difficult to gauge. The Times had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy of the letter received by Chevron from the department regarding its decision to drop the case.

As the newspaper reported, “To protect what energy companies consider proprietary information, the Interior Department does not announce that it is accusing companies of underpaying royalties nor does it announce its settlements in these disputes. The government also does not disclose how much money each company pays in royalties.”

Somebody’s got to stand up for we the people. Any takers in 2008?

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