A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. . . . We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

But, interestingly, in between those ellipses in his full quote was this:

And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United . . . This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly.

Why would the founder of the Christian Coalition of America be busying his head with concerns about the flow of oil? Well, that could well have something to do with one of the other hat Robertson wears as overlord of the Robertson Charitable Trust. Among the trust's holdings is Lakeland Development Corp., which until four years ago was known as CENCO, a company that in 1998 found itself in the cross hairs of local environmentalists, the Huntington Beach City Council and government regulators. CENCO had grand plans of nearly simultaneously opening an electric plant in Baldwin Park, an oil refinery in southeast LA County's industrial Santa Fe Springs and a dormant pipeline that would carry crude from tankers anchored off Huntington Beach's shore to a beachside terminal and then on underground to Santa Fe Springs. CENCO had seemingly arrived in Surf City out of nowhere with a $20 million bankroll to reopen the Golden West Refining Co. terminal. The concern was planning to dump another $200 million into un-shuttering the 62-year-old Powerline refinery in Santa Fe Springs. The Robertson trust was apparently had that kind of cash lying around after selling off some broadcasting holdings. The venture vowed it would produce up to 50,000 barrels a day, and they tried to sweeten the pot with local officials by promising to create 350 jobs, $500,000 in annual property taxes and untold profits to supposedly fund the Robertson trust's evangelical work. Robertson boasted the refinery would be "the most environmentally friendly refinery in the entire United States."

A win-win-win? Hardly. Huntington Beach was less than eight years removed from the disastrous tanker spill of 416,000 gallons of crude. Many residents still recalled plucking seabirds slathered in black stuff off the sand and trying desperately to clean them off. Beachside merchants lost tons of business. Residents in Santa Fe Springs, which is composed mostly of working-class Latinos, were not too keen on the project's effect on their town. Many said there were still nasty fumes coming from Powerline even though it had been closed for three years. But CENCO pressed on. They began making improvements. They paid back fees Powerline owed the South Coast Air Quality Management District. They reached an agreement with the feds to reduce Powerline's previous emissions by 85 percent. And, critics charged, they began lining the pockets of various officials along the way. When it was pointed out that this massive, potentially eco-threatening undertaking would have to go through the normal environmental review process any similar new project would, CENCO balked, arguing that the pipeline and refinery should be grandfathered in under the same clearances that allowed the previous companies to operate. They also sought fast-track approval for the refinery and electric plant under a program then-Gov. Gray Davis had launched in the wake of the state energy crisis. That brought more threats of lawsuits from local agencies, a massive, grass-roots campaign by neighborhood activists in Santa Fe Springs and, surprisingly, given their notorious pro-business bent, the filing of a suit by the Huntington Beach City Council that would prevent CENCO from suppling crude oil to Powerline. By the summer of 2001, a defiant Robertson was claiming that California oil companies had conspired to kill his refinery by making it impossible for CENCO to obtain financing. Robertson hastily threw together a press conference to bemoan "the behemoths controlling the oil industry." He told the New York Times, "I feel a little like David vs. Goliath. The majors are extremely big, and it looks like they are trying to stop our restart." He wrote elsewhere, "Since the Spring of 1999, CENCO Refining, in order to raise capital for its restart, went out to the bond market and found that our efforts were being stymied. In one case involving a financial center bank, we were told that the head of a major oil company had sent work to the bank that if it helped finance the restart of the Powdering Refinery (sic), now CENCO, that the oil company would possible withdraw its business." But the American Petroleum Institute called the allegation unfounded, and Robertson did not help matters by being unable to identify either of the banks who supposedly refused to loan him money. He couldn't even come up with the names of the oil companies who he claimed were behind CENCO's downfall. Investigative reporters were later able to find numerous instances of CENCO having cut corners, omitted key facts and misrepresented itself to speed up approval of its projects. After three years of essentially being put through the ringer, Robertson claimed that a company rep he sent out here to "re-assess" the situation had concluded that his Southern California holdings were "real-estate projects" not potential energy operations. CENCO first dropped the electric plant, then the oil plants. "This refinery will never, ever be switched on again," Robertson sheepishly vowed before quickly changing the name CENCO (emphasis on sin) to the friendlier sounding Lakeland Development.

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