by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

When three of the most powerful political men in the United States have a little business – on the side that reeks of conflict of interest, you would think the mass media would be inter­ested. But you’d be wrong.

Common Cause Magazine examined a financial interest in a Houston-based oil tank-­barge business (Hollywood Holding) shared by President George Bush, Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher, and Secretary of State James Baker and found it deserved widespread media exposure for at least three reasons:

1) the Bush administration has proclaimed itself the environmental administration; 2) the tank-barge industry is a major polluter of U.S. waterways; 3) the company that manages the Bush-Mosbacher-Baker barges is one of the largest tank-barge companies in the United States; collectively its barges, which carry petroleum products, have spilled upwards of 200 times since 1980, government documents show.

The Common Cause Magazine research revealed that:

* President Bush invested $50,000 in the barge partnership Hollywood L.P.G. 2 in 1978. He already has earned about $130,000 on his investment and will continue to receive about $20,000 a year for the foreseeable future.

* Commerce Secretary Mosbacher, whose agency monitors U.S. waters for pollution, has a 25-percent share in the 220-barge fleet of Hollywood Holding which has been responsible for at least 200 oil spills between 1980 and 1989.

* Secre­tary Baker has invested $175,000 in Hollywood concerns since 1978. More than half of the 24 barges Baker has invested in have polluted at least once since 1980, according to Coast Guard documents.

Although they carry much smaller loads, tank-barges can cause more total pollution than tankers since they pollute inland, in bodies of water that are more fragile ecologically than the open sea.

According to the most recent Coast Guard information, tank barges spilled more than 4.3 million gallons of oil and other hazardous substances during 1983 and 1984, compared with 2.1 million gallons spilled by oil tankers during that time.

Congress is considering oil spill legislation that could require double hulls in both tankers and tank barges. While barge interests argue that the double-hull provision is economically infeasible and would result in only a modest reduction in pollution, the Coast Guard says that an entirely double-hulled fleet would reduce total barge pollution by 80 percent. According to a press spokesperson in the Department of Transportation, the Bush administration is not in favor of phasing out single-hulled vessels but is in favor of further study.

President Bush is apparently aware that mass media exposure of his tank-barge invest­ment could be politically embarrassing. On April 10, 1989, a little more than two weeks after the supertanker Exxon Valdez gushed oil onto hundreds of square miles of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, Bush put his partnership interest into a qualified blind trust. This means it will not appear on his future financial disclosure statements. Nonetheless, thanks to the exhaustive investigation by Common Cause Magazine, it already is on the record and now deserves mass media attention.


SOURCE: COMMON CAUSE MAGAZINE, 2030 M St., Washington, DC 20036, DATE: March/April 1990

TITLE: “Three Men and a Barge”


COMMENTS: Considering that this is a well-researched, well-documented, and well-written article that ties three of the most powerful political men in the United States (including the President) in with the pollution-prone oil tank-barge industry, you would expect that it would attract some mass media attention. But investigative journalist Teresa Riordan says you would be wrong. “To my knowledge,” Riordan reported, “the subject matter received no exposure in the national press.” She conceded that the story was difficult to get and immensely complex – “pieced together from four separate Coast Guard FOIA requests, SEC documents, and state incorporation papers.” But, even after the potentially explosive story was published in Common Cause Magazine in early 1990, there was little, if any, interest shown by the mass media. “My story was mentioned in the Austin American Statesman, the Village Voice (Jim Ridgeway’s column), and several small to midsize newspapers. However, much to my surprise, the closest this story got to national exposure was a mention in the Chicago Tribune’s magazine review column.” Riordan said it’s important for the public to be aware of the story since it helps ex­plain the toothless legislation that finally emerged from Congress. Also, she added “The Gulf (of Mexico) Coast is an environmental nightmare that no one is paying attention to – because the spills are small (though numerous!) and occur in remote (though ecologically fragile!) areas.” As Riordan pointed out, the obvious beneficiaries of the lack of media coverage given this issue are George Bush, Robert Mosbacher, Jim Baker, and the tank barge and oil industries.