Back in May, a television news program asked me if I’d tell America the BP oil spill is President Obama’s Katrina. We discussed the spill’s causes, effects and cleanup effort, but I wouldn’t give them the “red meat” they were looking for. So I lost my 15 minutes of national fame.
Since then, it has become obvious that the Katrina analogy is inappropriate. The 2005 hurricane was marked by abject failures by the New Orleans mayor and Louisiana governor, and initially inept responses by FEMA and the Bush administration.
The 2010 oil spill is defined by yeoman’s efforts by Gulf Coast governors – and an Obama administration response that is leagues beyond inept. It is proactively incompetent and obstructionist, as though it is determined not to let this crisis go to waste – but to prolong and intensify the environmental and economic calamity, to advance its political objectives: shutting down offshore leasing and drilling, bringing the US oil industry into the automotive-banking-housing-healthcare sphere of federal control, forcing a massive shift to costly renewable energy, and ramming cap-tax-and-trade through Congress.
How else can anyone explain the litany of bureaucratic decisions that have squandered opportunities to shield beaches, fisheries and estuaries from the expanding slick, before hurricanes hammer cleanup efforts? Ponder this unconscionable malfeasance by the EPA, Corps of Engineers, Interior Department, Fish and Wildlife Service, OSHA, Justice Department, White House and Congress, which:
* Exempted BP from normal environmental reviews, from requirements that BP have viable plans in place and equipment on location to deal with any blowout and spill, and from oversight of its intended removal of drilling muds from the drillstem despite signs of dangerous pressure building in the well.
* Opposed surface and subsurface use of dispersants and rejected offers of dispersants from Britain.
* Compelled crews to employ 4-inch hoses to vacuum up oil by the quart, after President Obama objected that he “can’t suck it up with a straw.” Rejected state-of-the-art skimmers from the Netherlands, because the skimmers send a little oil back into the ocean, while collecting seawater mixed with oil, segregating the oil and discharging the water. (EPA demands that any water discharged from the skimmer be 99.99% oil-free. In other words, it demands that all the oil be left in the ocean, to be driven onto beaches and into sensitive estuaries – rather than permitting ships to collect 95% of the oil, and discharge the rest.)
* Rejected other state-of-the-art vessels, because the Jones Act prohibits the use of even specialized foreign crews in US waters. All together, says the State Department, the feds have rejected 21 offers of help from 17 different nations. (The president could waive the Jones Act, as President Bush did after Katrina, but apparently doesn’t want to offend his union allies.)
* Stands poised to reject help from the Taiwanese tanker-turned-skimmer, “A Whale,” which is now steaming toward the Gulf, to aid the cleanup – on the same bogus Jones Act and “pollution” grounds.
* Refused to allow the building of berms, because dredge and fill operations might cause environmental impacts – as though the massive intrusion of oil into marshlands would have no effect on wildlife.
* Forced Alabama to remove barriers it had installed to protect the state’s beaches, and move them to Louisiana waters.
* Appointed a scientific advisory board to guide the spill response – then falsely claimed the panel had approved the imposition of a drilling moratorium that was actually added to its recommended actions only after the scientists had signed off on the proposed plan. The drilling ban’s severe impacts on Gulf state employment and revenues were ignored by Interior and the White House, which likewise ignored a Federal District Court order to lift the moratorium until the matter could be fully adjudicated.
* Appointed an oil spill investigation panel that includes the dean of the Harvard Engineering School, a former EPA administrator, the head of an anti-drilling environmental activist group, an anti-oil former US senator, and three others. Not one has actual expertise or experience in drilling or oil spill cleanup.
* Threatened criminal prosecutions, thereby chilling witness discussions and testimony, rather than working to learn what precisely went wrong on April 27 and coordinate a successful cleanup effort.
* Held congressional inquisition hearings, to grandstand, browbeat industry officials, and gloss over MMS regulatory and oversight failures – long before a factual investigation could be completed into the accident and response to it, and amid threats of criminal prosecution for anything witnesses might say.
To top it off, in the face of an environmental catastrophe largely perpetrated and perpetuated by a deliberately incompetent and intransigent federal government, rabidly anti-drilling Congressmen Waxman, Markey and Stupak have now introduced HR 5626, the Blowout Prevention Act. The bill requires that any company seeking a drilling permit must first guarantee that it could prevent any future blowouts; promptly stop any blowout, even if the blowout preventers and other measures fail; and drill a relief well within 90 days of any blowout.
This “domestic oil production prohibition” bill sets safety standards that are as impossible to meet, as requiring that all oil tankers prove they will never have an accident, even if they are forced to negotiate the obstacle courses that these same legislators intend to create off our shores, by installing thousands of wind turbines along our coasts. In conjunction with other anti-drilling initiatives, the bill would greatly increase the number of tankers coming to the United States with crude oil and refined products – thus increasing the number of major tanker accidents.
Even a six-month moratorium could cost 20,000-30,000 jobs in the Gulf Region. If HR 5626 and other measures are implemented, the ban could easily become permanent – destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs. Once the big rigs leave, most won't be back for years, as they will be in high demand in counties that do want to drill. Meanwhile China, Cuba and other countries will be drilling in our backyard, off Florida for example, using their rules and technologies, tapping into US reservoirs, and threatening our coasts.
Anyone who’s read my book, Eco-Imperialism: Green Power / Black Death, knows I am no fan of BP. It screwed up big time in the Gulf, cutting corners and failing to respond properly to tests and other signs of trouble downhole, further compounding its awful environmental and workplace safety record.
However, there is simply no justification for these actions by the Obama administration and Democrat Congress, which seem determined to magnify the crisis – to further hobble the nation’s oil and gas industry and the countless companies, workers, families, hospitals, schools and charities that depend on it. Indeed, America runs on reliable, affordable petroleum fuels for almost two-thirds of all the energy we consume. It counts on offshore oil for millions of jobs and billions in royalty and tax revenues.
Enough is enough. The Gulf States must take control of their energy, economic and environmental future. In the long term, this means conducting complete investigations into corporate and government failures – and imposing civil and criminal penalties for misfeasance and malfeasance, as appropriate.
In the near term, the Gulf States should make it clear that these are their beaches, estuaries, coastal waters, jobs and revenues – and they will no longer tolerate the abject failures that have defined the federal takeover of this oil spill response effort.
The states have a right, and a duty, to make decisions about booms, berms, skimmers and every other aspect of the cleanup – based on what their experts advise, and perhaps regardless of what the EPA, Coast Guard or other federal agencies might say.
Only then will this nightmare be brought to an end.