Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Research Student: Dr Terry Hathaway

Corporate Power and US Oil Dependence Policy Evolution under George W. Bush

Photo of Dr Terry Hathaway

US oil dependence poses grave health, environmental and economic risks to the United States and its citizens. Yet, at the same time, several major corporations financially benefit from the oil dependent status quo. Through an investigation of how auto-manufacturers have been involved in the formulation, implementation and outcomes of both Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and Hydrogen Fuel Cell research policy (the FreedomCAR partnership) under the administrations of George W. Bush my thesis argues that the representation of the interests of (primarily) the Big Three US automobile corporations resulted in the protection of the oil dependent status quo from major political change.

In this regard, my thesis investigates two interlinked questions: “why, over the past forty years, has the US not adopted a coherent energy policy to deal with its oil dependence?” and “how are corporations powerful in the US?” Focusing mainly on the latter question to explain the former, my thesis has four main original contributions. First, it provides an analytical framework for understanding the power of a corporation working as a political actor which reconciles many diverse mechanisms of influence and that allows an understanding of how these mechanisms can reinforce and complement one another. Second, in applying the framework, it provides two original policy case studies, which are based upon data gathered during fieldwork in Washington D.C. and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Third, my thesis demonstrates the validity of a holistic focus upon policy evolution, rather than policy making, for understanding questions of power and influence; it demonstrates the need to return to broader analysis of “who governs?” – or Held and McGrew’s (2003, p.8) “Who rules, in whose interests, by what mechanisms and for what purposes?” – than is currently carried out in US interest group literature. Fourth, my thesis shows how corporate power in domestic politics is connected to the international consequences of US oil dependence and the world problems that such dependence exacerbates.

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