Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

What is Obama supposed to do about BP’s disaster?

Posted in Barack Obama, energy, politics, United States by allisonkilkenny on May 26, 2010
WASHINGTON - MAY 11:  Environmental activists ...

Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife

John Cole expresses the view of, I think, many liberals on his blog today when he asked: what exactly is the Obama administration supposed to about the oil spill?

He asks this after acknowledging all the terrible things BP and the government have done (missed deadlines, hidden the size of the spill, issued more permits to drill,) while failing to address some other points (BP buying off spill victims, using toxic dispersants, which have been banned in the UK, against the orders of the EPA, racing up to Canada to try to get their country to deregulate, too, etc.)

Cole isn’t an apologist for private business run amok. He just sincerely wants to know: what the hell is Obama supposed to do about this?

But he’s already answered the question with his last peeve point — a realization Cole appears to have at the very end of the post. The Obama administration isstill issuing permits. Despite the catastrophe of the Gulf oil geyser, Obama wants to expand offshore drilling. The rationale for this is articulated byInterior Secretary Ken Salazaar.

“We should be honest with ourselves. … We are dependent on oil and gas and we will be,” Salazar told senators. “As an economy in transition, it’s something that we need to do.”

And of course, Obama concurs.

Yet, as Ezra Klein points out, the US uses 23 percent of total world oil consumption, but has only 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves within its borders. Even in the super productive parts of the new area opened to drilling (a 24 million acre area of the eastern gulf,) the expected yield is only 3.5 billion barrels of oil. The US consumes 19.5 million barrels of oil per day. That means the shiny new wells would only produce around 180 daysworth of oil.

Here’s a chart illustrating US oil consumption. You can see how little new offshore drilling actually contributes.

Basically, expanding domestic drilling is a huge, huge risk with very little pay off.

So the first thing Obama could do is end the Domestic Drilling As Savior Of Society charade. The US is addicted to foreign oil, and engaging in risky domestic drilling isn’t going to reverse that trend.

Obama could also defend the American people by supporting proposals to raise the potential cap on damages for oil companies beyond the current limits, and increase the amount in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund by increasing taxes on industry. The proposal would increase the amount the fund could pay for cleanup and damages related to any spills.

Thus far, the administration has offered a tepid response.

The Obama administration remains confident it can recover “every dime” of taxpayer expense from the spill, with or without legislation to substantially increase the dollar amount at which oil-spill liabilities are capped, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli said Tuesday.

Why bothering raising the cap if it’s only going to piss off wealthy industry donors? Seems like a waste of energy, really, and not the “dumped into the ocean” kind.

The Obama-BP relationship is an ongoing thing. It’s not as though this very bad thing happened, so now Obama has to sign endless bits of legislation to permit the next bad thing to happen, as well. As far as I know, the government is still capable of regulating industry. I’m not claiming they’re actually doingany regulation, but they do possess the tools to do some regulation if they desire.

And clearly, the White House gets that they still have the power to regulate industry.

The new automobile fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks that the administration outlined last month are anticipated to cut oil use 11.6 billion gallons per year by 2016. The executive order Obama issued to raise mileage standards for heavy trucks could cut oil consumption another 11 billion gallons by 2030.

Super. Genuinely good stuff. Now, how about standards that make usingbusted blowout preventers — complete with dead batteries, leaks in the hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of a key component, and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through steel joints in the well pipe to stop the flow of oil — criminal offenses that, at least, raises the cap of liability, and also lose a company any new drilling permits?

Additionally, if the EPA orders a company to stop using toxic dispersants that have been banned in the UK, and the company flips them the bird and keeps using those toxins, that company should be held accountable for their actions. Imagine if the FDA banned a certain toxic chemical from food that bears a “striking molecular resemblance to anti-freeze,” and causes respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney, and blood disorders. Now, imagine if a company kept using that chemical even after the FDA made their polite request.

What should matter more: The sovereignty of a corporation, or the health of the American people?

What is Obama supposed to do? His job. He’s supposed to protect the American people. I believe he took an oath swearing to do that very thing.

One Response

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  1. The Destructionist said, on May 28, 2010 at 12:16 am

    In light of the BP oil calamity it’s quite obvious that something must be done, and fast, if we are to save our world from corporations that would prefer to place huge profits above that of our environmental and financial welfare.

    As large corporations gobble up smaller corporations in an attempt to seize an even bigger piece of the global economic pie, it seems that businesses have been allowed to grow, unfettered, into unwieldy corporate behemoths (a.k.a., British Petroleum) with little, if any, regulations regarding their obligations to national sovereignties or allegiances.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I believe that if a corporation begins its “life” in a particular country, than it has an obligation to that country and its people: due in part to the patronage of its citizens throughout the years in helping that corporation to grow. When I hear about American businesses pulling up stakes and moving to other countries in lieu of cheaper labor and supplies elsewhere, I feel both embarrassed and betrayed. (They would be nothing if it weren’t for people like you and me. After all, we purchased their services, time and time again, fostering them constantly by giving them the opportunity to flourish. Our final reward for all our efforts? Millions of fellow Americans out of work, all desperately hoping that their unemployment benefits never run out.)

    I agree that the bad news is not just happening here in America, but around the globe. I blame that on the evolution of the business model: over the years, it has been compressed into a precise science in an effort to squeeze every last drop of profit out of the proverbial “bottom-line.” I began to notice the change in the late 1970’s when I was in my teens. Back then, it was a different world for me and I didn’t seem to care too much. Today however, it is a different story.

    What can we collectively do as Americans?

    Contact your representatives in the House and Senate. Let them know that

    big business should be regulated and ask them to enact laws to:

    1.Ensure that all corporations “born” within the United States deter from any and all actions that would adversely affect our country;
    2.Place high tariffs on imports from American businesses that move their bases of operations (not to mention our jobs) to other regions of the world;
    3.Work to limit their corporate power and influence in Washington D.C. by passing laws whereby politicians, found to have ties with said corporations or corporate lobbyists resign.
    4.Endeavor to ban all corporate favors and corporate lobbyists from Washington D.C.
    Essentially, it’s up to us to fashion our own future. If we don’t, rest assured that someone, or some corporation will.

    •(I know that BP was not born and reared here in the United States. I was merely using it as a reference as to what corporations are capable of doing if left to their own devices.)

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