If one had to name a company that was one of President Obama's favorites, Caterpillar would have to be high on the list. On February 6, 2009, Mr. Obama named the company's chairman and CEO, Jim Owens, to his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. On February 12, 2009, Mr. Obama flew with Mr. Owens aboard Air Force One to Caterpillar's headquarters to tout the stimulus bill. On November 24, 2009, Mr. Owens and his wife were invited guests at Mr. Obama's first state dinner at the White House, in honor of Prime Minister Singh of India. On February 7, 2011, Mr. Obama praised the company, which is based in the president's home state of Illinois, in a speech to the Chamber of Commerce.
In November 2010 Douglas Oberhelman took over from Mr. Owens as chairman. Mr. Oberhelman has been more critical of the Obama administration. Federal Election Commission records show that Mr. Oberhelman donated to the McCain and George W. Bush presidential campaigns and to the National Republican Congressional Committee and Illinois Republican Party but not to Mr. Obama's campaign. Mr. Owens also is an active environmentalist, serving on the board of the Illinois chapter of The Nature Conservancy and as a Trustee of the Wetlands America Trust.
That's the context in which, late last week, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and the state of California Air Resources Board slapped CAT with a $2.55 million civil penalty for violating the Clean Air Act by shipping "more than 590,000 highway and non-road diesel engines without the correct emissions controls."
The case is to be settled via a 27-page consent decree.
It raises the following questions:
- Did President Obama know CAT was a corporate polluter when he was inviting its CEO to a state dinner, appointing him to a presidential advisory board, and ferrying him around on Air Force One?
- Why wasn't the case, which involved engines shipped from 2002 to 2005, brought and settled by the Obama administration while the pro-Obama CEO, Mr. Owens, was in office, rather than not until the new, pro-Republican CEO, Mr. Oberhelman, took office?
- Why does the press, which has devoted endless column inches to pollution by Koch Industries in connection with its owners' funding of some pro-Tea Party groups and libertarian policy research, ignore the Caterpillar-Obama connection in its sparse coverage of the CAT pollution settlement?
Caterpillar's statement on the whole thing is as follows:
Caterpillar fully cooperated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), California Air Resources Board and Department of Justice in this matter. As the decree indicates, Caterpillar denies any wrongdoing, but does agree that the decree represents a good faith effort between the parties to resolve their differences and avoid potentially lengthy litigation. Caterpillar is committed to following the terms of the decree.