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Weekly Mulch: Obama’s Responsibility for the BP Oil Spill
by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
President Barack Obama is in Louisiana today, and BP is saying it will know in 48 hours if its attempt to “top kill” the leaking oil well in the Gulf Coast by pouring mud and cement over it has worked.
If the scramble to stop the leak has ended, the slog to clean up is just beginning. Thousands of fisherman are still out of work, as ColorLines notes. But there are new jobs in Louisiana. This week Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland visited workers raking oil off a beach in Louisiana. One man, she writes, “can’t count how many times he’s raked this same spot in the 33 hours he’s worked it since Thursday, but one thing he’s sure of, he says, is that he’ll be standing right here tomorrow and the next day, too.”
Although the regulatory infrastructure that was supposed to oversee companies like BP failed in this case, the administration is stepping up to ensure that the spill is stopped and the clean-up begun. “I take responsibility,” the president told reporters yesterday. “It is my job to make sure everything is done to shut this down.”
Kevin Drum calls this performance and the media affirmation that came after it “the kabuki of our times”—a show that only pretends that the government has the wherewithal to stop the leak without the resources of private industry.
“The president has to be In Charge whether he can actually do anything or not,” Drum writes. “What everyone should be asking is not what the feds are going to do about capping the leak, but what they’re going to do to make sure all the oil is cleaned up afterward.”
Going forward, the government needs to make sure that BP fulfills its clean-up promises. Without strong oversight, the company could slip out of paying its debts. That’s what happened last time an energy company left a lake of oil in American waters, as Riki Ott’s Not One Drop documents. The book “describes firsthand the impacts of oil companies’ broken promises when the Exxon Valdez spills most of its cargo and despoils thousands of miles of shore,” according to Chelsea Green.
BP has little incentive to clean up its operations or to take responsibility for the damage it has already incurred. As Care2 reports, another BP rig had to shut down this week when a power outage caused crude oil to spill from its storage tank to “secondary containment.” And on the Hill, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) charged that the company was deliberately low-balling its estimates of the Gulf spill’s size to avoid additional fines.
At The American Prospect, Monica Potts delves into the logic behind BP’s operations. Even when using one of the highest estimates of the spill’s volume—70,000 barrels a day, or more than 2 million barrels overall—she writes, “Americans burn about 10 times that, 21 million barrels, each day. It would only take us a couple of hours to use up everything in the Gulf. This is despite everything we know about how bad burning oil is. Given that, it’s not surprising that an oil company might rank our desire for oil more highly than our undemonstrated desire to avoid ecological disaster.”
In Texas, activists tried this week to demonstrate to BP that consumers do desire to avoid such disasters, AlterNet reports. A group of women traveled to the company’s headquarters and, wearing little more than sandwich boards, tried to expose “the naked truth about drill, baby, drill.”
AlterNet reports that Diane Wilson, who organized the protest “doesn’t take nudity lightly.” Growing up in rural Texas, “I was taught that flesh is sinful, it’s the devil,” she said. “So for me, using nudity to expose the truth about BP was WAY outside my comfort zone. But I realized that it’s the destruction of our ecosystem by corporate greed that’s obscene, not a woman’s body.”
It’s important to realize that such destruction is not limited to this one catastrophe in the Gulf. As David Roberts writes at Grist:
“We don’t get back the land we destroy by mining. We don’t get back the species lost from deforestation and development. We don’t get back islands lost to rising seas. We don’t get back the coral lost to bleaching or the marine food chains lost to nitrogen runoff. Once we lose the climatic conditions in which our species evolved, we won’t get them back either.”
Fixing the system
If Obama is ready to take responsibility for the oil spill, he might want to focus on strengthening the government regulators who oversee these dangerous industry. The lack of oversight from the Minerals Management Service—which was rotting from the inside-out long before Obama came into office, TPM reports—played a huge role in this spill. Across the country, the government bodies that are supposed to be guarding the environment have stepped away from that responsibility.
Consider, for instance, Forrest Whittaker’s report in The Texas Observer about his state’s environmental oversight agency. “In decision after decision, the Texas agency that’s supposed to protect the public and the environment has sided with polluters,” Whittaker writes.
President Obama may not be able to fix Texas’ problems, but he can provide leadership by correctly regulating corporations that pollute. In that way, the president can take responsibility not just for cleaning up this spill, but for preventing the next one.
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