Selling the Future

Congress now seems likely to pass a wrongheaded energy bill packed with tax breaks and benefits for oil, natural gas, coal, and power companies. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill's total cost to taxpayers, including lost revenue, will reach $40.3 billion through 2008 and $52.6 billion over the next decade.

But the real cost is much higher. In addition to sending many pesky environmental regulations back to the Stone Age, both the House and Senate versions of the bill give huge tax breaks to oil companies and grant increased access to sensitive natural areas. Utilities also join in the gold rush, with new tax breaks for coal-fired plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. The Senate version also helpfully repeals the law enacted to prevent future Enron scandals, the Public Utility Holding Company Act. Anything else you need, fellas? Just ask. Our noble public servants will no doubt happily oblige.

There's good news for some, though: stockholders in America's energy companies. "If you look at the fundamentals, who benefits from the bill and all the different reasons why members of Congress are likely to vote for it in the end, we're looking at excellent chances of getting the bill done this year," said Prudential Securities Washington analyst James Lucier.

Incidentally, the oil, utility, and coal industries contributed approximately $25 million to members of Congress this year. The selling of America's future -- and its soul -- continues.

Fixing the Blame

Governor Phil Bredesen's announcement Tuesday that he had fired Department of Children's Services commissioner Mike Miller -- whose prior Davidson County service was praised by the governor -- cited the need for "a different kind of leader" at the state-government level. That may or may not be on point: The deeper reality is that Miller got the ax because of a federal monitor's report highlighting continuing serious problems that long antedate Miller's tenure.

That report, released early this month, flunked the department on more than half of its 136 findings -- no surprise for an agency whose reputation has long been sullied by funding scandals and deaths of children under its general supervision. Even Bredesen on Tuesday appeared to recognize this -- calling DCS a department in need of a "deep cultural change." In fact, the federal report was mandated by July 2001 -- a full 19 months before either Miller or Bredesen took office.

Miller had frequently been called on the carpet to respond to issues dating back several years before his term began. He did what he could: fired a regional director, held get-tough press ops, and made heady promises of clean sweeps to come. But in 10 months he had barely enough opportunity to begin the process of fixing DCS. If Bredesen really wants fundamental change, he might look to the source of the problem: day-to-day caseworkers and supervisors. It is they who account for the troubling numbers and the damning statistics in the monitor's report.

We hope the governor finds the "strong manager" he says he's looking for. Bredesen's action in firing Miller -- only a day after the beleagured DSC head had led off the governor's public budget sessions with a lengthy report detailing serious cuts of the sort all state agencies are now expected to propose -- can be excused if he is able to locate such a wonder-worker.

Otherwise, Miller will be regarded as what he seems to be at the moment -- a scapegoat.

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