Posted on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 at 1:22 pm
Author: Renee Martin
Oil has been flowing into the gulf for over a month now and it seems that a resolution continues to remain just out of reach. The disaster is now openly being compared to Hurricane Katrina – and while both of these events have caused a tremendous amount of damage, they are vastly different. In an effort to assign blame, politicians as well as the public have lashed out in anger at the Obama administration. The president has answered his critics in a recent press conference by stating that, “I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.” This statement is in line with his pledge to increase accountability and transparency in U.S. government.
It was not Obama who made the mantra “Drill, baby, drill” a household refrain. Sarah Palin trumpeted those words on the election trail during her failed bid to become vice-president. According to Time Magazine, Palin has now changed her line of attack by accusing Obama of being in bed with Big Oil. This is quite ironic, considering the Republican Party’s long involvement with oil — George Bush’s work with many failed companies and most notably, Cheney and Haliburton.
Rather than a display of real sorrow for the environment that is being destroyed, the concern of the Republican Party reads more like political posturing. The Republican Party chose to ignore the suffering of impoverished Blacks in the wake of Katina, and it now fails to offer concrete solutions to bring an end to the worst man-made environmental destruction on U.S. soil.
Before the oil spill disaster, Obama planned to open the U.S. Atlantic coast to offshore drilling for the first time in more than two decades. He did, however, cancel a planned lease sale in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, because it is considered too environmentally sensitive, and he delayed two others. Unlike the Bush administration, which originally planned the sales in Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the potential environmental damage was at the forefront of the decision. Proving once again that the environment is of primary concern, Obama extended a moratorium on new offshore oil drilling by six months in the wake of BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “Drill, baby, drill,” has never been a part of the Obama lexicon because the president understands that there are consequences to each action.
Hurricane Katrina stands as evidence of the ways in which the Bush administration privileged big business over people and thus remains a symbol of ignorance, incompetence and neglect in the American consciousness. Katrina was anticipated by top government officials and yet nothing was done to prepare the citizens for the onslaught that they would face. Shortly after the hurricane, a video surfaced showing Bush attending a top-level meeting in which he did not ask a single question. The population of New Orleans pre Katrina was predominately Black, and Bush’s reaction to the fell in line with his response to the murder of James Byrd, once again proving that Black lives meant nothing to him.
Speaking on the disaster, Sen David Vitter stated,
“It was not only predictable, it was actually predicted. That’s what makes the failures in response — at the local, state and federal level — all the more outrageous.”
George Bush’s idea of surveying the devastation involved flying over the gulf coast, peering out the window and then flying back to give a speech in the Rose Garden, to let the populace know that the administration was doing all that it could. When his war-mongering ways could be realized, George Bush visited the remnants of the World Trade Towers, thus proving that unless human suffering could somehow result in the death of more people of colour, it was deemed unimportant. Just as the brown people that have died in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to be uncounted because their humanity has been devalued – the deaths of those that lost their lives in Katrina are only important now that they can used as a weapon against an African-American president.
As of press time, Obama has already visited the oil spill twice, most recently the day after he gave a speech accepting full responsibility. Unlike Bush, Obama did not wait for public outrage to reach a boiling point, because he intrinsically understands that what many chose to devalue based in maintaining White supremacy, or plundering for the purposes of creating profit, is actually the foundation on which America is built. If America can be considered in anyway a great country, it is because of the sacrifices of people of colour and mother earth.
Obama could not predict that this man made natural disaster would occur. And while he has accepted full responsibility, the blame really belongs to the deregulation set in place during the Bush administration and British Petroleum, who has clearly been negligent.
According The New York Times a worker attests that:
” ‘[T]he rig had been drilling deeper than 22,000 feet, even though the company’s federal permit allowed it to go only 18,000 to 20,000 feet deep,’ the lawyers said.”
A BP spokesperson has vehemently denied this claim. Meanwhile, The New York Times further cites commentary from Mike Papantonio, one of the lawyers representing the shrimpers and fishermen, which claims that the company failed to install a shut-off valve in an effort to save money.
Obama is not personally privy to the operating procedures of each individual oil company and in fact, oversight is done by the Mineral Management Services (MMS). In 2005 the MMS adopted the following policy [pdf]:
“The lessee or operator is in the best position to determine the environmental effects of its proposed activity based on whether the operation is routine or non-routine.”
This effectively gives companies like BP the ability to ignore the concerns of biologists and the harm that drilling does to the environment. This policy was put into place during the Bush administration; however, it has continued during the Obama administration. In an effort to begin some sort of accountability, S. Elizabeth (Liz) Birnbaum, who became the director of the MMS in July of 2009, has been fired. Ex-Democratic Senator Bob Graham and former Republican environment Chief William Reilly, have been tapped to head an oil spill commission whose job it is to investigate the oil spill:
“‘The purpose of this commission is to consider both the root causes of the disaster and offer options on what safety and environmental precautions we need to take to prevent a similar disaster from happening again,’ the President said.”
Obama has been quick to take responsibility whereas after Hurricane Katrina, despite images of Black Americans dying in filthy water as they begged for support, the Bush administration attempted to shift blame and failed to establish a swift response to the needs of those in peril. And though the oil spill is quickly becoming the largest man-made disaster in U.S. history, only 11 people have died in comparison to Hurricane Katrina, where it is estimated that 1,836 people lost their lives.
Republicans feel safe in making the comparison to Hurricane Katrina because Black lives are devalued in the U.S. To label the oil spill “Obama’s Katrina” serves two purposes: it abdicates responsibility, and once again dishonours the memory of those who died, because the Bush administration ultimately was dedicated to big business and White supremacy. Perhaps, if Bush could have come up with a version of Operation Iraqi Liberation for the gulf coast, the death knell of over one thousand African Americans would have been heard.
Even though Obama has taken responsibility for the spill, there really is no specific action that he can take to halt the flow of oil, this is a job for engineers. The rhetoric from the administration has taken the form of veiled threats, which is completely unnecessary, as it is in BP’s interest to stop the leak as quickly as possible. Even if the administration were to involve the army, it seems reasonable to suggest that they would have to defer to the expertise of BP, because the company has the most experience with its equipment. The only thing Barack Obama can ensure is that the best engineers are dedicating their time to plugging the oil leak.
There can be no denying the fact that the MMS needs a complete overhaul, but when we consider that the administration has been dealing with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, as well as two wars, it is understandable that some of the issues that plagued the Bush administration would still be in place. It took eight years for the Bush administration to nearly bring the U.S to its knees and it is unreasonable to suggest that it can or should have been corrected in the fifteen months that Obama has been in office.
The level of accountability that has been forced upon Obama was never the standard for Bush, whose administration would come to symbolize the very worst of what Republican American governance has come to mean to the world– but then, moving goal posts has always been one of the various methods that White supremacy has engaged in to maintain its undeserved privilege.
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