Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
When the Executive Branch does not have worst case scenario planning for each kind of energy source—oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar and efficiency—the people are not protected.
Enter the 24/7 oil gusher-leak by BP and Transocean – the rig operator – and the impotence of the federal government to do anything but wait and see if BP can find ways to close off the biggest and growing oil leak in American history. Where is the emergency planning or industry knowhow?
Of course, we all saw Barack Obama’s first full press conference in ten months where he said, “In case you were wondering who’s responsible? I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure everything is done to shut this down…The federal government is fully engaged, and I’m fully engaged. Personally, I’m briefed every day. And I probably had more meetings on this issue than just about any issue since we did our Afghan review.”
Sure, so he’s being kept informed. Those are not the words of leadership five weeks after the preventable blowout on the Deepwater Horizon 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. His problem is how long it took for the White House to see this as a national disaster not just a corporate disaster for BP to contain.
That default was not just failing to determine the size of the spill (over ten times greater than BP originally estimated) or the farcical non-regulation, under Republicans and Democrats, by the Minerals Management Service of the Interior Department. It was a failure to realize that our government has no capability, no technology to take control of such disasters or even to find out whether solutions exist elsewhere in the oil and geologic industries. It’s like a spreading fire where the perpetrator of the fire has the primary responsibility to put the fire out because there Is no properly equipped public fire department.
James Carville, an Obama loyalist and defender, called out his champion from new Orleans, where he now lives, and told him: “Man, you got to get down here and take control of this!” With what? Obama has a 16 month long record of turning his back on advice from the Cajuns of Louisiana to environmental groups in Washington, DC. He shook off warnings about the pathetic federal regulators, so called, cushy with the oil industry. During his campaigns, he allowed McCain’s “drill, baby, drill” to turn him more overtly toward favoring offshore drilling, instead of turning onto offshore windpower.
As the multi-directional and multi-depth oil swarm keeps encircling the Gulf of Mexico, strangling the livelihood of its people, the life of its flora and fauna, with its implacably deadly effect, Obama and his supposedly street smart advisors, led by Rahm Emanuel, started out with a political blunder. Presidential specialist, Professor Paul Light at New York University put his finger on it when he said: “The White House made a deliberate political calculation to stand off…to sort of distance themselves from BP, and they’ve been hammered on that.”
Early on, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told him that the federal government does not possess superior technology to BP. And BP CEO Tony Hayward admitted that BP was not prepared for such a blowout. He said “What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit.” Gates really meant that Uncle Sam had nothing superior to nothing or, in less charitable words, was completely out to lunch with the chronic deregulators who still infect our national government.
Obama’s cool is turning cold. He is not reacting fast enough to the public rage that is building up and over-riding his vacuous statements about taking responsibility and being briefed daily. Much of this public rage, incidentally, is coming from the southern Gulf rim, whose elected politicians consistently opposed any regulation of their campaign contributing oil companies in order to avert just these kinds of disasters. Only Florida’s Congressional delegation said—stay out of Florida’s waters.
Politico reported that “Obama skipped the memorial service for the 11 workers killed on the rig earlier this week, instead flying to California, where he collected $1.7 million for Democrats and toured a solar panel plant. On the day that the significant clots of oil started appearing on the Louisiana coast, Obama was sitting down for an interview to talk hoops with TNT’s Marv Albert.”
He must move to properly sequester all the assets of BP and Transocean to fully pay for their damage, thus assuring Americans that BP will not be able to concoct another Exxon/Valdez escape strategy. He must scour the world of knowledge and experience regarding capping underseas oil blowouts, and not just wait week after week for BP to come up with something.
Nobody says that being president is an easy job, even in the best of times. But a President, who can go all out spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan in ways that bleed the taxpayers and breed more anti-American fighters, in part to protect Big Oil in the Middle East, better come back home and stop Big Oil’s war here in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s how he’d better start defining “homeland security.” (See Citizen.org for more on BP.)