Slippery When Wet

We can’t impede progress in the name of environmental action that yields little for the environment and even less for our people.. and we should look at the environment as an economic opportunity. – Meg Whitman

As we enter the 60th day of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico it has been amazing to me the outcry that has occurred from all camps concerning the responses to the crisis. The one which has troubled me the most has been the criticism which has been directed at the president. Let us be clear this disaster was masterminded and created by the profit seeking British Petroleum and they should be held responsible for all aspects of this disaster. My concern is with those who believe unrealistically that this or any president can somehow plug up a hole in the gulf that is 40 miles off-shore and a mile deep. Or that we have the technology to respond to such a disaster somewhere on a shelf somewhere and we are just not using it. The truth is that the majority of this country has been asleep on the possibility of a disaster like this because of our dependence on fossil fuels and the marketing of big oil.

Many of the critics have suggested the President institute special powers such as the war powers given during a state of attack by foreign powers or terrorists. The problem with these suggestions is that they ignore the reality of our current political state or the current state of our judiciary, specifically the Supreme Court which has shown recently its propensity for corporate bidding. Have these critics so easily forgotten the mantra of the right for the last two years that President Obama is a socialist looking to privatize all industry and undermine our way of life. Now they are suggesting that this same president seize BP to insure their compliance even temporarily is absurd. Not to mention the fallout from the oil industry lobbyists and their congressional minions. Does anyone think that this Supreme Court would allow such tactics without taking action to prevent it?

I understand that this is an environmental disaster of monumental proportions but let’s not be naïve enough to believe that the criticism from the teabaggers stoked by their Astroturf benefactors would somehow be silent because this is a national disaster. While for most Americans this is a tragedy of historical proportions for these folks it is just another opportunity to fault the President and his administration for not safeguarding our country. Unfortunately when disasters of this magnitude occur many folks are unable to get their heads around it and so they become overwhelmed and desensitized to the suffering of others. As a nation we have become more regional and isolated from each other and so if these types of things don’t directly affect us we tend to compartmentalize them as someone else problem and so it is difficult to craft national responses or national outrage. While those in the gulf and environmentalists understand the depth of the disaster there will be those who will attempt to minimize the human and environmental toll on this nation.

The tragedy in the gulf demonstrates our false reliance on technology or our belief in technology and how we have convinced ourselves that technology can and will solve all of our challenges. Many critics believe we have the technology to plug a hole in the ocean as if it were some hole in the bathtub to be plugged by so much silicone. Should we have had in place safety precautions to deal with this tragedy? Of course we should have been more vigilant in holding these corporations to higher safety standards, but let’s not forget that for years we have allowed these corporations to skirt safety and write their own rules. The answer to this disaster is not to criticize this President but to put in place the regulatory mechanisms to prevent future disasters and to hold BP responsible for the entire restoration and financial liability for this one. But let’s not kid ourselves into believing that those forces who want to keep us dependent on fossil fuels will go quietly into that good night.

Here are a few quotes that demonstrate the willingness of these paid clowns to sacrifice the rest of us for their short-term gain.

"What better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I'm just noting the timing, here." —Rush Limbaugh

"Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country's energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It's catching up with you. The tragic, unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it." —Sarah Palin

"From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented." —Texas Gov. Rick Perry

If the firms that employ an increasing majority of the population are driven solely to satisfy the owner's greed at the expense of working conditions, of the stability of the community, and of the health of the environment, chances are that the quality of our lives will be worse than it is now. - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The Disputed Truth

Boehner: Taxpayers Should Bail Out BP

Lisa Murkowski’s failed EPA disapproval resolution had two nicknames: the Dirty Air Act and the Big Oil Bailout. The former was more appropriate, since the resolution wouldn’t have given any money directly to the oil industry. Murkowski’s ideas are bad, but not that bad. John Boehner’s ideas, on the other hand, really are that bad.

The House Republican leader, a long time beneficiary of BP campaign contributions, said yesterday that taxpayers should foot the bill for cleaning up BP’s mess in the Gulf Coast. His comments followed a similar statement from the conservative US Chamber of Commerce. From TPMDC:

In response to a question from TPMDC, House Minority Leader John Boehner said he believes taxpayers should help pick up the tab for the clean up.

"I think the people responsible in the oil spill--BP and the federal government--should take full responsibility for what's happening there," Boehner said at his weekly press conference this morning.

Boehner's statement followed comments last Friday by US Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue who said he opposes efforts to stick BP, a member of the Chamber, with the bill. "It is generally not the practice of this country to change the laws after the game," he said. "Everybody is going to contribute to this clean up. We are all going to have to do it. We are going to have to get the money from the government and from the companies and we will figure out a way to do that."

This is blatant hypocrisy from Boehner, whose office said just this week that “The federal government should be focused on getting its own fiscal house in order, not providing more bailouts with taxpayer money.” Still, we shouldn’t be surprised – according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the Energy and Natural Resources sector has been Boehner’s fifth largest source of contributions over the course of his career to the tune of $896,148, including $15,200 from BP. In general, BP has given twice as much to Republican candidates as it has to Democratic candidates.

Michael Steel, the Repub leader’s spokesperson (not the RNC chair), has been backpedaling furiously since the press conference, telling Greg Sargent, “No taxpayer money for cleanup or damages -- period. BP pays," and the Huffington Post that “Boehner made a general statement… but he has said repeatedly that BP is responsible for the cost of the cleanup." As the HuffPo’s Jason Linkins points out, though, “Do you agree… [that] taxpayers should pitch in to clean up the oil spill?" is a pretty specific question, and Boehner said what he said. Yet even if Steel does succeed in rewriting history and walking back the leader’s comments, the Chamber of Commerce’s Donohue was even more specific when he said “we are going to have to get the money from the government.” Spin it any way you want, but these are the stated beliefs of the modern Republican Party: oligarchy first, and the people only if there’s time left over.

Reset: Stephen Kinzer's Vision of a New U.S. Relationship with Turkey and Iran

Until quite recently, it seemed that Turkey had a clearly defined role in the Middle East, from the standpoint of U.S. policy. They were the "good Muslims," who were part of NATO, who contributed troops to U.S. wars, and who had good relations with Israel.

In the past few weeks, therefore, some Americans may have been startled to see the government of Turkey seemingly playing a very different role. First, together with Brazil, Turkey negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran to defuse the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and forestall a controversial U.S./Israeli push for new sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Although the deal was very similar to one proposed by the Obama Administration - and Brazil and Turkey had a letter from Obama encouraging them to press forward with the deal - Obama Administration officials dismissed the deal, and far from being grateful to Turkey and Brazil, made a show of being angry. But instead of being chastened, Turkey and Brazil insisted their deal was good - invoking their letter from Obama to demonstrate their case - and insisted that the U.S. should pursue it.

There's more...

Weekly Mulch: BP Oil Hits Louisiana - But how Far Away is the Next Disaster?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Oil has hit shore in Louisiana, and despite BP’s best efforts to keep the media away, reporters can now touch the greasy stuff with their hands and feet. The onrush of  oil into the Gulf has continued for over a month now, and while BP is still trying to staunch both the spill and media spin, the company is losing control over the information that’s reaching the public.

The Environmental Protection Agency demanded this week that the company use a less toxic dispersant to clean up the spill, and independent scientists are releasing estimates of the spills volume that dwarf BP’s numbers in terms of magnitude.

Right now, a catastrophe of this scope seems like an unprecedented, one-off event. But across the energy industry, at other drilling sites, in other industries, companies are taking risks and courting environmental disasters on the same scale.

“Bayou Polluter”

BP, which was operating the rig before the spill, has other sins on its head. In Louisiana, “fishermen say BP spills oil every year and they point out marshes still dead from dispersants that were sprayed there,” marine biologist Riki Ott writes for Yes! Magazine.

The latest disaster could cause more exponentially more damage, but it is far from unique. On Democracy Now!, former EPA investigator Scott West, describes a case in which one of the company’s Alaska pipelines burst, spilling oil out onto the frozen tundra. BP had ignored workers’ concerns about the integrity of the pipeline, West says, and during warmer months, the resulting spill could have reached the Bering Sea and created a much bigger mess.

“Now we’re seeing the same sort of thing in the Gulf, in this catastrophe,” West said. “And information is coming to light that corners were cut and that employees’ concerns were being ignored. It’s the exact same pattern that we saw with BP in Alaska.”

Beyond BP

But a new report, which combs over the oil industry as a whole, shows that “BP can’t be singled out,” writes Public News Service. The report “found that operating errors and incidents around the globe are more common than the public likely realizes because most events don’t make the news.”

As countries like the United States become more desperate for fuel, accidents like the spill in the Gulf Coast become more likely. Extracting oil from tar sands, hydrofracking, deep-sea oil drilling: these are tricky techniques for extracting fossil fuel that are becoming popular only because the world’s store of easily accessible energy is almost gone. In The Nation, Michael Klare writes about the new quest for “extreme energy options” and the contingent risks.

“By their very nature, such efforts involve an ever increasing risk of human and environmental catastrophe—something that has been far too little acknowledged,” Klare writes. “As energy companies encounter fresh and unexpected hazards, their existing technologies…often prove incapable of responding adequately to the new challenges. And when disasters occur, as is increasingly likely, the resulting environmental damage is sure to prove exponentially more devastating than anything experienced in the industrial annals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Tar sands a slow-motion spill

It’s not just BP that’s playing fast and loose with its environmental impact. Extracting fuel from tar sands, a source for oil that’s gaining in popularity as an alternative to off-shore drilling, takes a dramatic toll on the environment.

Inter Press Service writes that, according to a new report, “Oil sands development is “kind of like the gulf spill but playing out in slow motion.”

The extraction process demands lakes of water, which, once contaminated, are held in pools. “Those toxic ponds pose a hazard to migrating birds, risk contaminating nearby soil and water resources, present health problems to downstream communities and, the report notes, pose the risk of “a catastrophic breach,”” IPS explains.

A director at the National Resource Defense Council described tar sand extraction as “a slow-motion oil spill every day,” writes The Texas Observer’s Forrest Whittaker. The United States is poised to consume even more oil from this source, too, he reports:

“In the works is a 2,000-mile underground pipeline from Alberta to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, including BP’s Texas City facility. The high-pressure pipeline, proposed by TransCanada, would be capable of carrying 900,000 barrels per day, enough to more than double consumption of tar-sands oil in the U.S.”

Government intervention

As Whittaker reports, the Obama administration has been supportive of these sorts of efforts, and this week questions about the government’s leniency towards BP and the energy industry started bubbling up. In this climate, the government should be stepping in to defend the safety of the country’s people and its environment; instead, even the Obama administration is giving the energy industry a long leash to pursue its projects. On Democracy Now!, Scott West, the EPA investigator, described the pattern he saw during his investigation:

“What the government has done over the past several years is taught BP that it can do whatever it wants and will not be held accountable. So, decisions have been made, very poor decisions have been made, to increase profits and put workers at risk and been allowed and endorsed by the federal government.”

The current oversight has not much improved. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his colleagues are pushing for a $10 billion cap on liability for oil companies, for instance, but the administration has argued for a lower limit, the Washington Independent reports.

Without real accountability from the government, BP could escape with little damage, Riki Ott explains in her Yes! Magazine piece.

“In the Exxon Valdez spill, people counted on the oil company to respond to and clean up the mess, and we counted on Congress and the legal system to hold the oil industry accountable for damages to the environment and local communities and economies. In hindsight, these turned out to be bad ideas,” she writes. “Exxon dodged penalties through long court battles,  systematically underestimating the scope of the spill, and leveraging the costs of clean-up to avoid fines and penalties.”

BP doesn’t need to escape accountability in the same way, though; Ott has suggestions for actions that anyone can take to ensure the company pays the price for the damage it has caused.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: BP Oil Hits Louisiana - But how Far Away is the Next Disaster?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Oil has hit shore in Louisiana, and despite BP’s best efforts to keep the media away, reporters can now touch the greasy stuff with their hands and feet. The onrush of  oil into the Gulf has continued for over a month now, and while BP is still trying to staunch both the spill and media spin, the company is losing control over the information that’s reaching the public.

The Environmental Protection Agency demanded this week that the company use a less toxic dispersant to clean up the spill, and independent scientists are releasing estimates of the spills volume that dwarf BP’s numbers in terms of magnitude.

Right now, a catastrophe of this scope seems like an unprecedented, one-off event. But across the energy industry, at other drilling sites, in other industries, companies are taking risks and courting environmental disasters on the same scale.

“Bayou Polluter”

BP, which was operating the rig before the spill, has other sins on its head. In Louisiana, “fishermen say BP spills oil every year and they point out marshes still dead from dispersants that were sprayed there,” marine biologist Riki Ott writes for Yes! Magazine.

The latest disaster could cause more exponentially more damage, but it is far from unique. On Democracy Now!, former EPA investigator Scott West, describes a case in which one of the company’s Alaska pipelines burst, spilling oil out onto the frozen tundra. BP had ignored workers’ concerns about the integrity of the pipeline, West says, and during warmer months, the resulting spill could have reached the Bering Sea and created a much bigger mess.

“Now we’re seeing the same sort of thing in the Gulf, in this catastrophe,” West said. “And information is coming to light that corners were cut and that employees’ concerns were being ignored. It’s the exact same pattern that we saw with BP in Alaska.”

Beyond BP

But a new report, which combs over the oil industry as a whole, shows that “BP can’t be singled out,” writes Public News Service. The report “found that operating errors and incidents around the globe are more common than the public likely realizes because most events don’t make the news.”

As countries like the United States become more desperate for fuel, accidents like the spill in the Gulf Coast become more likely. Extracting oil from tar sands, hydrofracking, deep-sea oil drilling: these are tricky techniques for extracting fossil fuel that are becoming popular only because the world’s store of easily accessible energy is almost gone. In The Nation, Michael Klare writes about the new quest for “extreme energy options” and the contingent risks.

“By their very nature, such efforts involve an ever increasing risk of human and environmental catastrophe—something that has been far too little acknowledged,” Klare writes. “As energy companies encounter fresh and unexpected hazards, their existing technologies…often prove incapable of responding adequately to the new challenges. And when disasters occur, as is increasingly likely, the resulting environmental damage is sure to prove exponentially more devastating than anything experienced in the industrial annals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Tar sands a slow-motion spill

It’s not just BP that’s playing fast and loose with its environmental impact. Extracting fuel from tar sands, a source for oil that’s gaining in popularity as an alternative to off-shore drilling, takes a dramatic toll on the environment.

Inter Press Service writes that, according to a new report, “Oil sands development is “kind of like the gulf spill but playing out in slow motion.”

The extraction process demands lakes of water, which, once contaminated, are held in pools. “Those toxic ponds pose a hazard to migrating birds, risk contaminating nearby soil and water resources, present health problems to downstream communities and, the report notes, pose the risk of “a catastrophic breach,”” IPS explains.

A director at the National Resource Defense Council described tar sand extraction as “a slow-motion oil spill every day,” writes The Texas Observer’s Forrest Whittaker. The United States is poised to consume even more oil from this source, too, he reports:

“In the works is a 2,000-mile underground pipeline from Alberta to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, including BP’s Texas City facility. The high-pressure pipeline, proposed by TransCanada, would be capable of carrying 900,000 barrels per day, enough to more than double consumption of tar-sands oil in the U.S.”

Government intervention

As Whittaker reports, the Obama administration has been supportive of these sorts of efforts, and this week questions about the government’s leniency towards BP and the energy industry started bubbling up. In this climate, the government should be stepping in to defend the safety of the country’s people and its environment; instead, even the Obama administration is giving the energy industry a long leash to pursue its projects. On Democracy Now!, Scott West, the EPA investigator, described the pattern he saw during his investigation:

“What the government has done over the past several years is taught BP that it can do whatever it wants and will not be held accountable. So, decisions have been made, very poor decisions have been made, to increase profits and put workers at risk and been allowed and endorsed by the federal government.”

The current oversight has not much improved. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his colleagues are pushing for a $10 billion cap on liability for oil companies, for instance, but the administration has argued for a lower limit, the Washington Independent reports.

Without real accountability from the government, BP could escape with little damage, Riki Ott explains in her Yes! Magazine piece.

“In the Exxon Valdez spill, people counted on the oil company to respond to and clean up the mess, and we counted on Congress and the legal system to hold the oil industry accountable for damages to the environment and local communities and economies. In hindsight, these turned out to be bad ideas,” she writes. “Exxon dodged penalties through long court battles,  systematically underestimating the scope of the spill, and leveraging the costs of clean-up to avoid fines and penalties.”

BP doesn’t need to escape accountability in the same way, though; Ott has suggestions for actions that anyone can take to ensure the company pays the price for the damage it has caused.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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