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Put up or shut up

August 5, 2010

The visceral reaction to the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Blow-out has largely abated in the media, and sadly even in many of those who were so fired up during the 100 or so days that the oil was gushing from the sea floor, since the faulty Blow-out Preventer was capped by, of all things, a futuristic techno-plunger.  This week BP has started yet another bizarrely macho sounding procedure, the “Static Kill”, also known as “Bullheading”, which sounds either like a Steven Seagal buddy cop flick or a break dancing move depending on how fawningly the media is gushing over what amounts to the 2nd grade science fair technology the oil industry employs to clean up its messes.  When we were all wringing our hands and trying to figure out what to do about all of this, the only clear-headed solution presented was to accept that the damage to the Gulf was going to be substantial, that there was little one could do to mitigate that damage in the near-term, but that efforts could be taken, both technological and regulatory, that would make sure that this sort of disaster doesn’t happen again.  The prevailing wisdom was that the Gulf of Mexico, and several industries that depend on a clean, productive, and biologically rich body of water, were essentially dead, but that with a clear-eyed vision of the future, they need not have died in vain.

Of course, this is the sort of sober realization that is unwanted in the light of recent news stating that 3/4 of the oil is “gone from the Gulf” (never mind that sort of defies the laws of physics and even so, that impressive sounding figure leaves almost 5 Exxon Valdez’s worth of oil in the water), or that the dispersant question still remains unanswered (the EPA says everything is A-OK, thanks and stop asking, but they also approved the dumping of unprecedented amounts of the stuff in the water), or that not even a month after the geyser is capped is hardly the time to be patting ourselves on the back and popping champagne, even the cheap stuff, over our great success.  Stopping the gusher is obviously a first step, but the consensus among the media and our congressional overlords seems to be that the time has now come to close up shop and head home.  Maddeningly, that appears to be what’s going on as the new CEO of BP has said clean-up efforts should be scaled back, the company is dragging its feet on claims (no doubt instituting the plan that worked so well for Exxon during the Valdez spill; waiting for everyone to die) and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has made the decision to give up on not just a climate bill, though that’s bad enough, but on the political winner of forcing BP to pay for the entire cost of cleaning up their own mess.

“We tried jujitsu, we tried yoga, we tried everything we can with Republicans to come along with us and be reasonable …we could not get anyone to come along with us,” Reid told reporters.

You know what they didn’t try?  Making the jerks actually stand up at the podium to talk for hours about why they want taxpayers to pay to cleanup BP’s mess and then publicly shaming each and every one of them. Why didn’t he try that?  You’d have to ask Reid.  Apparently the vitriol that passes for Senate congeniality anymore is more worthy of preservation that the Gulf coast.  But if you’re going to torch that already ashy and smoldering bridge, at least do it for a good reason.  One thing you absolutely cannot do is nothing.  But that’s what they did.  Exactly nothing.

It will surprise none of my regular readers to know that I generally come down on the lefty end of the political spectrum, and while the Republicans deserve an enormous share of the blame by continuing to blatantly display their allegiance to corporate energy interests in lieu of obligations to the people they represent (Congressmen from Gulf states are especially culpable here) while all the while shouting themselves hoarse over a deficit that they’re knowingly adding too, this sort of balancing act they consistently engage in between the needs of their constituents and the needs of the national party structure is pretty much par for the course.  Same song, different verse that. But it’s nigh on impossible to defend a Democratic party leadership who consistently seem to go out of their way to sacrifice the clearly necessary requests of a long-standing political base at the alter of political expediency over and over and over again.   I mean, if 100 million gallons of bubbling crude into the shrimpbasket of America isn’t enough to push for a substantive change in such a small thing as the way we ask energy companies to take responsibility for their actions in the most obvious effing piece of legislation since the Ice Cream is Yummy Act of 1977*, what the hell are we going to do about anything else?

*may not be an actual piece of legislation

Worse still, for the last 30 years the environmental NGOs working Washington for our causes have slowly and inexorably been won over with pittances from oil companies’ advertising funds.  We counted on them to be our voices.  The Nature Conservancy was only the most obvious of these slides into functional oblivion, but they’ve all had a taste.  Audubon, Conservation International, the Sierra Club, have all taken money from oil giants.  Their reasons seem tiresome and self-serving anymore, but when The Nature Conservancy corporate offices were rightly called to bear for their proudly displayed partnership with companies like BP and others who not only consistently work in direct opposition to the stated mission of the environmental NGOs, but dump far greater sums of money into lobbying government for regulatory sweetheart deals, Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek had this to say:

We do work with BP and other natural resource companies on their development practices, especially in places where their development sites overlap with places we target for conservation. Energy and mineral development is a reality in many of the places we work around the world. Not every grant we take from a company involves work on their practices, but we try to get involved early in the development process to influence where, when, and how development happens (emphasis mine).

I’m a person who can easily get swept up in the idealism of a good cause, but when has this ever happened?  When has an agreement with The Nature Conservancy stayed an extraction company’s hand from getting exactly what it wants exactly when it wants?  Tercek claims that there are agreements in Wyoming, for instance, where The Nature Conservancy has identified areas for habitat mitigation and restoration, but are these legally binding?  And what happens when natural gas interests are out of the easy gas and decide these places are up for grabs again?  I think we all know what happens then, because it’s happened before and it damn sure will happen again.

So I’m calling on The Nature Conservancy (and Audubon and Conservation International and the Sierra Club) to do whatever is necessary to get the Senate to act on, at least, raising the cap for oil spill liabilities.  This is a staggeringly low bar; so low my one year old son trips on it.

For 30 years environmentalists have sent you money.  For 30 years we’ve been told you’re acting in our interests.  The rubber has hit the road.  The time to put all that political capital you’ve apparently been nurturing with your “partnerships” and your “working relationships” and your good will and make something happen.  Call in your favors.  Otherwise, what the hell is the point of even having massive national environmental NGOs that work with oil companies anyway besides money in your pockets and cheap PR for them?

I swear, between the cesspool that is the US Senate and the hypocrisy of corporate environmental NGOs it’s enough to make you want to drink.  At least you know that’s actually helping.

  1. August 5, 2010 12:33 pm

    The report’s numbers released to the public suggest that the 75% is overly optimistic. Throughout the months of the spill, BP has shown no interest in either transparency or accurate reporting, government agencies have been too willing to repeat BP’s lowball damage estimates, and the media (with few exceptions) have not applied sufficient skepticism to the information coming from BP and the government. That has made for a depressing spectacle.

    The performance of the environmental organizations is a mixed bag. Some have obvious conflicts of interest, like the Nature Conservancy. Audubon and NWF have performed a little better, sending scientists to help with cleanup and publicly questioning claims made by BP and the government. I would like to see a more concerted effort from them to increase the liability cap for oil spills and improve oversight of extraction operations to make sure spills don’t happen in the first place.

  2. Nate permalink*
    August 5, 2010 1:20 pm

    @John- I’m pretty much with you 100% I saw that the Columbia Journalism Review took the NY Times to task for implying that 3/4 of the oil was “gone” as opposed to dispersed. It was misleading and seemingly intentionally so.

    Some NGOs have definitely stepped up the plate, but I do get tired of hearing that these relationships somehow allow them to influence “greener” initiatives among extraction industries when there appears to be no significant impact whatsoever. You have to wonder why they should continue to be taken seriously on these matters.

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