Rep. Tom DeLay just inserted a $1.5 billion chunk of pork into the energy bill. For what, you ask? The oil and gas industry.

Worse, he snuck it in after the bill had left conference committee, so committee members had no chance to consider (or reject) it.

An enormous direct subsidy from taxpayers to one of the most profitable industries in the world, implemented in total contravention of the democratic process, by a Representative whose district stands directly to benefit. The mind really does boggle.

Rep. Henry Waxman just sent a letter (PDF) of complaint to Rep. Dennis Hastert. Some excerpts:

The provision at issue is a 30-page subtitle called "Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources." This subtitle, which was taken from the House-passed energy bill, was mysteriously inserted in the final energy legislation after the legislation was closed to further amendment. The conferees were told that they would have the opportunity to consider and vote on the provisions in the conference report. But the subtitle was not included in the base text circulated to conferees, and it was never offered as an amendment.

Instead, the new subtitle first appeared in the text of the energy legislation only after Chairman barton had gaveled the conference over. Obviously, it would be a serious abuse to secretly slip such a costly and controversial provision into the energy legislation.

You think?

And that’s not the worst of it. The provision sets up a $1.5 billion fund, some 75% of which isn’t subject to the normal Congressional appropriations process. From the letter:

The subtitle appears to steer the administration of 75% of the $1.5 billion fund to a private consortium located in the district of Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Ordinarily, a large fund like this would be administered directly by the government.

So this is basically an enormous slush fund, administered by a private consortium (the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America) based in DeLay’s district (Sugar Land, Tex.), that can be spent on almost any oil or gas project — including those involving "innovative exploration and production techniques" or "enhanced recovery techniques." The consortium itself — which counts Halliburton and Marathon Oil Company as board members — is explicitly allowed to keep up to 10% of the fund (over $100 million) in "administrative expenses." Oh, and members of the consortium can receive awards from the fund. The letter:

In short, the subtitle provides that taxpayers will hire a private consortium controlled by the oil and gas industry to hand out over $1 billion to oil and gas companies. There is no conceivable rationale for this extraordinary largess. … If Congress has an extra $1.5 billion to give away, the money should be used to help families struggling to pay for soaring gasoline prices — not to further enrich oil and gas companies that are rolling in profits.

You really can’t make this stuff up.