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Oil in the Gulf: Beyond politics, bigger problems

I can think of great political reasons why President Obama wants to create a six-month drilling ban on new deep-water oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico.  There are millions of gallons of oily black good reasons pouring into the water right now: reasons that are washing up in tar balls on the shores of Louisiana and Florida, toxic blobs of reason covering seabirds and killing fish.

Dan Shapely at Think Green debunks the myth that we should call the situation at Deepwater Horizon a “spill,” along with other harmful misconceptions about the scale of BP’s folly.  Spills do not gush thousands of gallons of oil a day into the ocean.  Simply cutting off the source and cleaning up the mess can rectify spills.  Deepwater Horizon’s underwater oil geyser is on a greater scale than any spill.  The president’s drilling ban is weak.  Shady politics are distorting the fact we need a permanent ban on all new drilling.  And on top of that, we need the government to invest in alternative energy research and reform our environmental regulations now.

Reuters reports that Judge Martin Feldman of Louisiana struck down Obama’s ban because all future deep-water oil wells may not cause the same catastrophic environmental damage as BP’s Deepwater Horizon well.  What he does not acknowledge is this scenario is possible for every well in the Gulf and for every new well that can be created.  There are millions of gallons of oil gushing into the Atlantic, destroying livelihoods, and endangering our landscape, caused by a single deep-water oil rig explosion.

President Obama’s drilling ban is too shallow of a response to the environmental catastrophe created by BP.  If Obama were realistic about his short-term solution, he would make all oil companies present concrete emergency plans for tragedies of this scale before they drill any new wells.  Stopping new drilling in the Gulf for six months will not strike black gold for the nation in environmental disaster prevention, especially if the government undermines its ban by granting 27 new drilling permits in the region.

On the other hand, Judge Feldman’s ruling is problematic because of his financial ties to big oil that are as recent as May of this year.  As part of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, judges are responsible for avoiding any impropriety that could taint their decision-making.  Judges must avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  If Judge Feldman is currently invested in oil companies, he should remove himself from hearing any case dealing with the actions of the oil industry.  We need a judge who can weigh responsibly the consequences of banning new drilling and has no financial interests in the outcome.  The American people should not worry about whether judges are more concerned with lining their pockets than protecting our lives.  We regularly deal with special interests financing our congressional campaigns, and we see traces of the resulting corruption leading to BP’s current negligence.

The catastrophe in the Gulf is an ironclad reason for a permanent ban on all deep-water drilling in any region.  Politicians need to stop crafting half-assed solutions in the aftermath of disasters.  Obama’s short-term drilling ban is similar to Representative Joe Barton’s apology to BP for making them pay for its criminal negligence in the Gulf: both acts are forms of political posturing.  Six months is pathetically short for creating prevention measures to avoid similar drilling disasters.  BP’s pocketbook should be squeezed and dried until it looks like a raisin for what it’s done to people’s livelihoods and to the earth.

Apologies for holding businesses accountable are absolutely inappropriate; momentary drilling bans are ridiculously shortsighted.  We cannot permit irresponsible garbage when recognizing the need for alternative energy sources and protecting our environment.  The nation needs to rectify its current problems before it starts drilling for any new ones.

It is time for the government to act and it is our job as citizens to make them act.  We must put the responsibility on the president and Congress to create stronger oil industry regulations and to start investing in alternative energy.  In the meantime, all oil corporations should develop action plans for resolving Deepwater Horizon-scale disasters and create disaster relief funds to help areas affected by debacles of this magnitude for their existing wells.  The government needs to bolster its emergency responses to potential corporate disasters, too.  This is not “BP’s spill” anymore.  BP lost control over this operation when the well exploded. That’s how the government should react.

Coalitions between industries, environmental protection and conservation groups, and scientists must work with the government on reforming the circumstances that led to the Deepwater Horizon explosion.  Finally, the president, representatives of Congress and agency officials need to take their hands out of oil companies’ pockets and keep them out if we want to give environment and energy regulation any legitimacy.  If our judges must avoid impropriety in their decisions by keeping their financial books clean, why don’t we start holding presidents and congressional representatives to the same standards?

Despite the ramblings of talking heads and politicians, what’s happening in the Gulf right now is not a partisan matter.  The oil disaster goes far beyond political parties, beyond BP, and beyond Deepwater Horizon.  Through the failure to supervise oil drilling responsibly, the environment is facing long-term devastation.  Families have lost their livelihoods and are shutting down their small businesses.

If you need a punchy moral to this story, it’s increase accountability from the yacht-racing CEOs of the world or turn your water to poisoned sludge.  This time is ideal for our nation to seek out alternative energy solutions and to invest time, money and resources in scientific development.  We need to pressure politicians at every level of government to make energy and environmental safety a priority.  We need the media to take on its role as watchdogs to ensure energy reform remains an important priority and not to watch politicians play the blame game.  The work we start now will benefit future generations and safeguard what’s left of our damaged earth.

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  1. Pingback: Letters: Spill can be catalyst for alternative energy; Federal government, BP … – Press-Register – al.com (blog)

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