DeLay Pads Energy Bill to Help Cronies

Scandal-ridden House Majority Leader Tom DeLay quietly padded the energy bill with a $1.5 billion fund for oil and natural gas drilling research that will benefit an energy consortium based in his home district.

The measure was criticized as a “giveaway to one of the most profitable industries in America,” by Rep. Henry Waxman, who demanded that the fund be dropped from the legislation before a House vote on the energy bill on Thursday.

The House is expected to approve the wide-ranging energy bill, which includes some $14.5 billion in tax breaks and incentives mostly for oil, natural gas, coal and electricity companies.

A vote in the Senate is tentatively set for Friday.

Waxman said the $1.5 billion fund for ultra-deepwater drilling was added to the final energy bill this week after House and Senate negotiators called a halt to any more amendments. The 30-page measure appeared in the text of the energy bill after Texas Rep. Joe Barton had officially ended the House and Senate conference committee to combine legislation passed by each chamber, he said.

“Obviously, it would be a serious abuse to secretly slip such a costly and controversial provision into the energy legislation,” Waxman said in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

A spokesman for DeLay defended the fund, saying it was in the energy bill approved by the House in April.

“The project is only new to Mr. Waxman if he failed to read the House bill he had voted on,” the spokesman said, adding he could not explain how the item was added to the final version of legislation prepared by the Senate and House negotiators.

Waxman said the fund would steer most of the money to a private consortium based in Sugar Land, DeLay’s home district, by directing the Energy Department to “contract with a corporation that is constructed as a consortium.”

Members of the consortium, Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, include Halliburton Co., Marathon Oil Corp. and several universities, according to the group’s web site.

The non-profit group conducts research into designing better technology to explore and produce natural gas in deep water, the web site said.

Waxman said that the measure added to the energy bill provides that members of the consortium — including Halliburton and Marathon — can receive money from the fund administered by the consortium.