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May 21, 2010

This whole oil in the Gulf of Mexico thing has got me more than a little perturbed.  There are the obvious reasons, of course, the decades of devastation this single event will wreak on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and the marshes and beaches that surround it.  The destruction of tourism and fishing industries already on shaky ground from Hurricane Katrina five years ago.  The ongoing health issues that the mostly poor population will have to bear from not only the oil, but the caustic chemicals used to “clean it up”.  Most of us feel like this is really out of our control.  We’re helpless.

So our only option is to get angry.  Which on some level is fine, I guess.  Despite the bizarre  protestations of the head of The Nature Conservancy that “now is not the time for ranting“, a little righteous anger can go a long way.  After all, BP lied about a lot of stuff.  They’ve lied from the very beginning and there’s absolutely no reason to believe that they’ve stopped.  And it’s completely mind-boggling to me that the government and the media act as though this is a shocking revelation, that a corporation would engage in demonstrable falsehoods to further their own interests.  I mean, I understand why the media does it, they’re mostly sociopathic narcissists.  So I guess I get why they continue to carry BP’s water despite the fact that BP has been proven to be wrong at practically every single turn (Independent engineers were saying the 5,000 barrel per day flow rate was way off three weeks ago when it was painfully apparent that there was no possible way that the growing slick correlated with BP and the Coast Guard’s continued assurances).

But I’m more than a little ticked off that even the Obama Administration and most of Congress has still, after a month of a non-stop crude oil geyser, apparently bought into the general myth that corporations operate with the best intentions of all of us in mind, and the more specific myth that off-shore drillers are super awesome technological marvels that use only the highest quality tire shards and golf balls to plug leaks, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Nearly all of the stuff BP continues to put out is so obviously complete crap, from the asinine comments of its CEO that this is a textbook response to an emergency to the over the top marketing of their amazing bendy straw technology that retrieves a whopping 1% of the gushing crude and seems as effective as drinking from a fire hydrant.  So it’s shocking and infuriating to see the impotence of the very people at who’s feet this ultimately rests, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and President Barack Obama.

I don’t intend this to be a polemic.  I absolutely do not miss the free-wheeling sex and drug drenched Department of the Interior of the Bush Administration (which those on the right who seek to make political hay of this situation want a return too?).  It would be too generous to say that the department tasked with protecting America’s public lands from unscrupulous development had fallen down on the job with scarcely even token resistance in the form of enforcement of safety and environmental regulations.  In many ways the Obama Administration has been a significant improvement on the years that preceded it, but on environmental policy about the best you can say is that the sex and drugs have been replaced by straight up cash money.   The Bush years were an unmitigated disaster at the DoI, and when Salazar was appointed to the position he promised to clean up the Department and bring some respectability back to the crucial, and wildly under-appreciated, government agencies under its umbrella.  He was hardly the best choice, but those of us who opposed his appointment were guardedly optimistic.

Instead, we get business as usual.  In fact, I’d be hard pressed to say what changes Salazar has brought to the Department other than a penchant for stupid looking cowboy hats.  Affectations aside, the promise of a renewed relationship between the bureaucracy and the department’s own scientists has devolved into the same purely political decisions and bought and sold regulators, the ultimate result of which is the comedy of errors involving regulatory failures on the part of the government and cost-cutting on the part of BP leading up the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil gusher.  It’s the sort of non-regulation that was commonplace during the last 10 years.

What then, is Kenny Ken Ken’s answer to all of this?  When hauled before Congress this week he put on his best tough guy voice and stated:

If I find that there is someone within our department who has ignored the science, their heads will roll

Of course, such a statement would carry more weight if the Minerals Management Service, the regulatory agency behind enforcing federal standards on offshore drilling platforms, wasn’t the exact same organization that was cited for conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and honest-to-god orgies with oil executives not 18 months ago!  If Salazar has the chutzpa to sit there and imply that this was all news to him, that this agency wasn’t obviously deserving of some pretty draconian restructuring, I have to wonder whether or not he’s even showing up to work on a regular basis.

He assured the lawmakers that investigators would leave “no stone unturned” in finding the causes of the spill and learning “every lesson there is to be learned.”

What?  How can I be confident he’s learning every lesson when he didn’t even learn the lesson from the Administration before him?  The stone was overturned in his front yard.  He walked by it every day.  I’m completely shocked that Salazar didn’t completely clean house the same day he was finally able to do something about it. What the hell is his purpose except to, at the very least, make sure the oil orgies stopped?  And it appears he’s having trouble clearing that ridiculously low bar so pardon me if I scoff at his grandiose promises of head-rolling.

Meanwhile, the MMS apparently keeps operating as if absolutely nothing has changed, continuing to get huge kickbacks from oil companies on leasing contracts, continuing to ignore the need for regulatory safeguards, and we get to see Secretary Salazar act shocked and angry when they are, surprise surprise, in the middle of a massive screw up. It was practically inevitable.  And what has the MMS done in the light of the largest oil catastrophe in the nation’s history?  They’ve approved 27 offshore drilling permits in the days since the Horizon explosion, and guess how many were granted exemptions from environmental review?

Every. Single. One. Save one.

Which makes you wonder nothing so much as how bad that one had to be to necessitate the review.  But hey, don’t worry.  Salazar is going to make sure heads roll… at some point going forward… eventually I guess.

At this point it’s clear that Salazar isn’t just bad at his job, he’s criminally bad at it.  He’s either completely unwaware of what is going on in his own department or he’s powerless to stop it.  Either way he looks like a fool, and if heads should roll, it should start with his.

I think this is what bothers me the most about this BP debacle.  Sure it’s all well and good to get mad at BP.  I’m still ticked that everyone seems so surprised about how unscrupulous they are, but that’s the one thing that we as regular Americans are able to do.  Believe me guys, we’ve got this righteous fury thing covered.  What we expect from our elected officials, those who are in the position not only to represent our interests but protect our wild places is action.  I see Obama getting angry in the Rose Garden and ok, fine, we get you’re concerned but by god do something.  Re-establish the moratorium of off-shore drilling.  Force BP to be more open about the extent of the spill rate.  Seize their assets in the US to make sure they pay for this.  Can Salazar if he hasn’t been able to get the MMS under control in 18 freaking months.  Knock some heads, man!

Because ultimately the buck has to stop somewhere.  And when the real serious stuff goes down, no one is looking to the CEO of BP to provide them with comfort and justice.   Because we all know you can’t trust these people to ever do the right thing when the right thing interferes with trucks full of money.  I know that.  You know that.  My one year old child knows that.

But why does it seem the people with the actual power to influence the status quo have no freaking idea?

Meanwhile, 95,000 barrels of oil, almost 4,000,000 gallons, per day spew into the Gulf.

Update: It seems that not all government agencies are as worthless as Salazar’s Interior Department.  The EPA is currently weighting sanctions against BP that would cost them millions and potentially bar them from operating on fields they’ve leased on US territory.  It’s a huge move and a welcome one.  One hopes, however, that the EPA isn’t constantly forced to clean up the DoI’s mistakes.

  1. charlie permalink
    May 21, 2010 1:05 pm

    Excellent, Nate, really excellent.

  2. May 21, 2010 1:51 pm

    The head of the Nature Conservancy is wrong: it’s always a good time for ranting.

  3. Nate permalink*
    May 21, 2010 2:33 pm

    @Charlie- Thanks!

    @John- I know, I took that as a personal affront.

  4. May 21, 2010 3:31 pm

    Very well said and well thought, Nate. It’s unfortunate that it even has to be said. The whole situation is beyond gross.

  5. Nate permalink*
    May 21, 2010 3:51 pm

    @Jason- Amen. I feel like I’m going around with the constant taste of bile in the back of my throat. I don’t know what’s worse, the physical revulsion from watching the feed of the busted pipe or the mental anguish of seeing how little people of influence seem to be doing about it.

  6. May 22, 2010 1:08 pm

    Great post, Nate! I was asking myself. Will Birdlife International still cooperate with BP helping them “green” their image? It would be a bit hypochrite, right. Made a blog post about it.
    And it is not only BirdLife, but a lot of other organizations that recieve peanuts (in relation to BP’s profit and in relation to wahat this mess costs) for greening BP. Nature Conservancy is one of them!

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