FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Coming of Enron

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

It’s been more than a year now since the Texas conglomerate Enron swaggeredinto Oregon to gobble up Portland General Electric for a cool $3.2 billion.The press delicately referred to the deal as a merger. But this has provena grotesque misnomer. There is no question who the dominant partner is inthis relationship, Enron. It’s a company that never accepts a subservientrole and doesn’t tolerate anyone telling it how to behave.

Initially Wall Street mavens scratched their heads at the merger. Whatinterest would Enron, a global energy giant, have in PGE, a moribund electricutility saddled with a defunct nuclear reactor? The answer came soon enough.Enron’s sights weren’t on Oregon, but our neighbor to the south, the 31million residential electric consumers in California, and the high-tech,aerospace and defense factories that make the state one of the world’s mostpower-hungry regions. This is the mother lode for the new energy robberbarons. But to enter this lucrative market Enron needed credibility as apower provider. But like a apex corporate predator Enron also had its eyeson PGE’s assets, cheap hydro-power that it could sell across the West athuge mark ups, power plants and dams that it could auction off, and a networkof transmission lines that led right into the high-priced California market.

As for PGE’s problem child, the Trojan reactor, Enron’s acquisitionsanalysts believed it would prove only a minor irritant. There was a provensolution: stick the ratepayers with a large share of the costs of this misbegottenventure and dump the nuclear waste, and the attendant risk, on the federalgovernment. This is the old strategy of privatizing the profits and socializingthe costs.

Enron begrudingly admits to all this in one of their latest filings withthe Securities Exchange Commission, where Enron’s CEO Kenneth Lay confirmedthat the acquisition of PGE “has allowed Enron to expand its West Coastpower marketing operations and has assisted in establishing entry into retailmarkets in other parts of the country.” In other words, PGE customersare funding Enron’s expansion plans.

But the target is not just California. Enron truly has a global reach.In fact, more than 35 percent of the company’s income derives from its internationaloperations, pipelines across the Amazon, oil wells off the coast of Venezuelaand Trinidad, power plants in Indonesia, China and India, and a water companyin Great Britain. The guaranteed profits from PGE can be channeled intoany of this overseas operations, where Enron expects to make as much as50 percent of its profits by the year 2002.

Enron has a reputation for getting what it wants and doing whatever ittakes to get the job done. The purchase of PGE presents a microcosm forhow Enron operates on a global scale. The first strategy is to lubricatethe political system with generous infusions of campaign cash. Enron isone of the nation’s top sponsors of both the Democratic and Republican parties,pouring over $3 million into their coffers since 1989. This investment hasyielded the company tremendous rewards, including government brokered andfinanced deals worth billions in China, Indonesia and India. In Oregon,Enron lavished contributions on the state’s congressional delegation, supportingboth Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden. Neither senator uttered a critical peepabout the Texas takeover of Portland’s electric utility.

The second tactic is to buy off the potential opposition, preferablyas cheaply as possible. In Enron’s power deals in India this took the formpolitical bribery. The PGE deal was a fairly straightforward operation.Enron pledged $20 million to local charities and promised to contributean addition $10 million to Oregon environmental groups and conservationprojects, effectively muting any uncomfortable questions about how the Texascompany planned to deal with such home-grown issues as salmon conservationand low-cost electricity.

When philanthropic disbursements don’t quell all the critics, Enron doesn’thesitate to reveal its dark side. The company has a well-earned reputationas one of the most aggressive companies in the energy business. “Theyplay with steel elbows,” one bruised competitor said. In Oregon, Enron,and its partner in crime PGE, wasted no time in going after the Public UtilitiesCommission when the PUC had the temerity to question the public benefitsof the merger. The energy conglomerate rushed to the Oregon legislature,promoting a bill that would eviscerate the PUC’s regulatory power. Ultimately,the PUC buckled under the pressure and approved the deal.

And now the true price tag of Enron’s takeover of PGE is being seen,as deals are cut to ensure that the lowest electric rates will go to largestand most wasteful consumers of power, the pulp mills and aluminum plants.Meanwhile, some of PGE’s most prized assets are being auctioned off to thehighest bidder, with the ratepayers being expected to make up any losses.For the residential consumer and the salmon the honeymoon for the ignominiousmarriage between PGE and Enron is clearly over.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Diana Johnstone
Macron’s Mission: Save the European Union From Itself
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Andrew Stewart
Health Care for All: Why I Occupied Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Office
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A.
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail