What is one of the nation's leading televangelists and doomsday peddlers doing in the midst of a plan to open an oil refinery in California? That's the puzzling question, as details of Pat Robertson's latest economic venture are beginning to emerge. It also appears that like some Robertson business plans, this one -- despite a hefty bankroll of nearly $20,000,000 and startup costs ten times that amount -- may be short lived.

While many Americans know Mr. Robertson as a crafty, even avuncular television evangelist and the mover behind the powerful Christian Coalition, he is also a man with political and economic contacts throughout the world who has traveled extensively and brokered deals with leading figures. He has been involved in everything from marketing schemes to broadcasting, diamond mining and land development. Last year, AANEWS discussed his relationship with the powerful Riady family of Indonesia who control one of the largest real estate conglomerates in Asia, had teamed up with Robertson to form a joint-venture to broadcast "no sex, no violence, no news" cable TV programs throughout that market and even into the People's Republic of China. Robertson and his son, Timothy, also are reported to enjoy high level contacts inside the PRC; that may account for the "accommodationist" stand Robertson has recently over the issue of human rights and trade sanctions against China.

Robertson's latest venture involved establishment last March of CENCO Refining, Inc., a corporate propriety controlled by Robertson Charitable Trust. CENCO announced plans to retrofit the 62-year old Powerline oil refinery plant in Santa Fe Springs (near Huntington) which had shut down in 1995, and begin production of up to 50,000 barrels each day. The plan was to offload crude oil from tankers anchored off Huntington Beach, piping it to the refinery. CENCO purchased the refinery in August, and announced plans to begin making over $20,000,000 in upgrades. In exchange for approval from local officials, the company said that the new operation would create 350 jobs and generate nearly $500,000 in annual property taxes. The profits would ostensibly go to "fund evangelical and charitable work conducted by the Robertson trust," noted the Los Angeles Times.

The scant media coverage of the Robertson venture has been confined to the Times, which identified J.Nelson Happy as CENCO's Chief Executive Officer (CEO). In fact, Happy is a key player in Robertson's network of religious and political advocacy groups. He serves as Dean at Regent University School of Law, a Robertson subsidiary, and was Vice Chairman and CEO of United Refining Co. in Pennsylvania from 1985-87. Happy is an attorney, and also serves as a director of the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal advocacy group which Robertson founded to counter the work of groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. He is also linked to "Ambassador Speakers Bureau" of Nashville, Tn. and his biographical sheet describes him as having "personally led the turnaround of over 25 troubled companies. He has shown how courage and faith in god can overcome apparently insurmountable problems in business and personal life..."

Mr. Happy's skills may prove vital to Robertson's latest money making scheme. In early October, the Huntington Beach City Council voted to sue CENCO if did not abandon plans to use the Golden West Refining Co. terminal to supply crude oil to the Powerline refinery. Robertson and CENCO then backed away from that plan. Neighbors in the working class Santa Fe Springs neighborhood also complained that fumes from the dormant plant still bother them; Happy assured community groups that CENCO would upgrade the plant and that "We want to be good neighbors..."

CENCO seems to have plenty of money to burn; reports suggest that up to $200 million may have to be spent just to make the Powerline refinery operational. Robertson's company has already made back payments to the regional Air Quality Management District, and is proceeding with plans to apply for its own permit. Officials are also requiring CENCO to make nearly 70 safety upgrades and improvements.

The Robertson venture may still be headed for court, though, even if the South Coast Air Quality Management District approves the CENCO venture. Earlier this month, Communities for a Better Environment filed suit charging environmental racism, and accusing the city of skirting environmental laws. Carlos Porras, a spokesperson for the organization, said that the public was excluded from any debate over the CENCO project, and that a full environmental impact study was not done. Mr. Porras also charged that the arrangement between the city and CENCO was a "back-room deal" meant to benefit Robertson's company.

$200 million is a lot of money, even for Mr. Robertson who has a penchant for raising enormous sums of cash through his Christian Broadcasting Network. Where is he getting that kind of backing? One answer may be found in his deal last year with Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who according to our estimates ended up paying between $250 million and $410 million for Robertson's International Family Entertainment, Inc., owners of the lucrative Family Channel. Now re-christened Fox Family Channel under the aegis of Murdoch's Newscorp, Inc. IFE still carries CBN programming including the "700 Club," the centerpiece of Robertson's media empire. The Murdoch deal included erasing of debts, payments to Robertson, friends, relatives and financial backers, and grants to Robertson-linked entities such as Regent University. The bottom line: while preaching the onset of Armageddon and social collapse on television, Robertson is still a key player in the board room, and thinks long range and big financial deals.


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