The President gave a forceful speech in Pittsburgh yesterday, calling for Congress to move forward on climate change legislation and linking the need for that legislation with the nightmare unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. That link is obvious, and the President was brave to bring it up, because politically it is not the easiest case to make.

The problem in dealing with the nightmare in the Gulf is that BP has already cast itself in the role of the villain. The administration will spend much of the next few years in litigation with BP arguing over the costs of the clean-up and, as the Attorney General announced during his visit to Louisiana, pursuing criminal and civil indictments as warranted. It is my fervent hope that any government oversight personnel who failed to do their job will also have the book thrown at them too.

There are three causes of the Gulf spill: There was an explosion, certain safety measures were not functioning properly, and we Americans are reliant upon fossil fuels to such a degree that it makes us take risks we should probably not be taking, such as drilling 5,000 down in the water. Each of these causes has a remedy. The remedy for the explosion is technological and, as we are witnessing, frustratingly ineffective. As I have urged before, the federal government should establish some kind of fire brigade with trained personnel and the best, most advanced equipment, and a series of remedies for which the personnel have been trained to try one after another in a matter of days, unlike the painful display of sloth exhibited by BP.

Attorney General Holder’s investigation will hopefully lead to punishment of those who failed to check and re-check the safety measures, as well as to the more general liability of BP, and such punishment will serve as a warning to future companies inclined to risk the livelihoods and ecosystem of millions of Americans to cut corners on safety. The Obama administration has already announced plans to overhaul the government agency charged with oversight of oil drilling.

Most remote of the causes, and the most difficult politically, is our national appetite for fossil fuels. The reason BP and others are drilling in the Gulf is because gas and oil is hugely profitable. The big oil companies raked in record profits in recent years, not just for their industry, but for the history of capitalism. And, the reason it is so profitable is because we Americans guzzle oil and gasoline like there is no tomorrow. But, there is a tomorrow and just as BP has no right to destroy the ecosystem in the Gulf, we have no right to destroy the planet for our children and grandchildren.

The political difficulty is that it is much easier to just let BP twist in the wind of villainy. The President wants us to change our habits, and such change is difficult to achieve, and linking our appetite for oil to the catastrophe in the Gulf, though warranted, will not only move BP out of the spotlight of blame, but invites Americans to think of their own culpability. But, who wants to do that? Mr. Obama is asking us to eat our spinach, which is courageous five months out from an election. We will see if it is effective. And, I am so, so looking forward to the climate change deniers hitting the airwaves and the blogosphere in the coming week. Sometimes, even in the midst of a crisis, you need a good laugh.

Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 6/7/2010 - 3:42pm
Since Mr. Kopacz claims to speak for the "people", I thought he'd be interested in this quote from the hearings today into the BP explosion:
 
"Natalie Roshto, who lives in Liberty, Miss., said that her hope for the hearing was "not to stop offshore drilling."
"My husband took great pride in his job, and many men depend on offshore drilling, that is our way of life," she said.
But she said safety regulations must be effective and able to account for unpredictable and tragic situations such as the April 20 explosion."
 
You can say what you want to me with whatever intent you want, but please don't pretend to speak for others!
 
Stanley Kopacz | 6/5/2010 - 3:39pm
All these crocodile tears for the blue collar workers all of a sudden.  If pride and work are so important, we should have stopped the exportation of jobs to China.  If pride and owrk are so important, legalize the growing and sale of pot in Louisiana.  That'll produce jobs and be much less harmful to the environment.  There's no pride in working for these scum. 
Anonymous | 6/4/2010 - 3:42pm
"Read my comments again, as I prefaced them by putting them in the context of regional government. To be clear, there should be a regional vice president handling this issue, as there should have been during Katrina.The big problem with Katrina was that it appeared that Bush's staff did not want to disturb his vacation. If he had been back in the White House before the Hurricane hit, he would not have been raked over the coals."
 
1. i would prefer the conversation to stay within the realm of realism rather than fantasy.  we do not have anything like the sort of government you're dreaming of.
 
2. so it's better to have a crisis start before your vacation and still to take one AFTER it begins rather than having it start on your vacation & return??? that is not even a laugable argument.
 
3. re: unemployment insurance; these are proud people, they would rather WORK than get a government handout.  I will not comment on the callousness of your argument.
Michael Bindner | 6/4/2010 - 1:28pm
Read my comments again, as I prefaced them by putting them in the context of regional government. To be clear, there should be a regional vice president handling this issue, as there should have been during Katrina.

The big problem with Katrina was that it appeared that Bush's staff did not want to disturb his vacation. If he had been back in the White House before the Hurricane hit, he would not have been raked over the coals.

The comparison to Katrina is apt, since both minerals mangagement and the Corps of Engineers committed sins of omission which turned each crisis deadly - which is why stopping drilling until there is a good contingency for plugging a well is the responsible thing to do. If those who are sidelined are suffering because of this, and I have no doubt that they are, then perhaps the solution is better unemployment compensation - something that pays the mortgage - with taxes to match.
Anonymous | 6/4/2010 - 11:44am
"This is essentially a local problem, at least until the oil starts burning. Then it might be a solution to global warming as the smoke blocks out the sun.There is nothing corrupt about tying this situation to climate change legislation. It might reduce the hazard of this happening again to pass the bill. The President's job is not to second guess BP in its cleanup responsibilities, but to make sure that no more drilling occurs, especially in deep water, until the hazard created by that drilling can be managed."
 
1. Funny, I didn't hear any liberals saying Katrina was a "local" problem with respect to Pres. Bush.  So why now, when this accident is actually outside of the state's territorial waters, is it suddenly a "local" problem only such that Pres. Obama should be immune from criticism?  I mean if some you Obama apologists were so fragrantly inconsistent, I might be tempted to take you seriously.
 
2. With respect to stopping deep drilling, I have 2 responses.  First, EVERY SINGLE deepwater well in operation today (or until MOnday I guess) was inspected IMMEDIATELY after the explosion by the Interior Department.  No major safety violations were found to lead investigators to believe the accident could occur again.  So the ONLY reason to order this ban now is political cover.  Second, the President's political cover comes at a HUGE cost to thousands of blue collar middle class workers whose livelihood depends on that drilling.  I appreciate the blog posts here on the impacts, but if they asked the fishermen and others on the coast, to a person they would OPPOSE Obama's ban.  There is a reason McCain carried this state so heavily, and its not just the social stuff.  And I note that on the President's last visit to the coast, he drove right by hundreds of ordinary people, the kind of people he claims to represent, and has not met with a single citizen down here.
 
3. It is true that the failures of this spill extend primarily to private enterprise (and I am on record as hoping that BP basically becomes a slush fund for the recovery of the state of Louisiana).  BUT, that doesn't mean its not fair to hold Pres. Obama's feet to the fire. 
Michael Bindner | 6/4/2010 - 10:28am
If we had a more regionalized government, possibly with regional vice presidents, they would be on the hot seat - and that would likely be a good thing. This is essentially a local problem, at least until the oil starts burning. Then it might be a solution to global warming as the smoke blocks out the sun.

There is nothing corrupt about tying this situation to climate change legislation. It might reduce the hazard of this happening again to pass the bill. The President's job is not to second guess BP in its cleanup responsibilities, but to make sure that no more drilling occurs, especially in deep water, until the hazard created by that drilling can be managed.

One of the sad realities of oil politics is the underfunding of Helium-3 fusion research. This was done deliberately by the last administration, since the DOE - both then and now - is mostly captured by energy interests. These interests don't want the competition Helium-3 would give them - since there is no use for coal once the technology is developed (and it would be developed much faster if we ran it as a crash program). Oil would be reserved for plastics as cars go electric and natural gas would just be for fertilizer - assuming that we don't instead capture the nitrates from factory farms for this purpose.

Is this President up to the task? Too much money from the coal industry makes me think he is not. I hope I am wrong on this. Of course, I don't see anyone on the 2012 horizon that is any better as Romney is not electable in Tea Party America (aka the GOP). If Romney went to the Independence Party, he might have a chance - especially if Palin were the GOP nominees. He might win some states, although likely not enough to win unless the recession double dips because of housing. It would be interesting to see what Mitt would do if he didn't have to pander to social conservatives. He might even be someone I would vote for.
Stanley Kopacz | 6/3/2010 - 7:00pm
There once was a president who got it about energy.  His name was James Earl Carter.  He said that we would have to find ways to reduce our usage of energy and find new methods for providing it.  He funded alternative energy projects such as solar.
Americans were reeling from the stagflation due to the rise in energy costs.  They were still in shock from having to get in huge lines for energy.  They hated what Carter said, since it meant sacrificing some personal comforts.
Then along came the nice old actor who told us "don't worry, be hoppy", like the song that came out in the next couple years.  Americans then believed things would be as they always were if they believed the nice old actor.  No change, no sacrifice, no demands.  They made the nice old actor president.  He then zeroed out the government support for alternative energy but spent billions to develop an anti-missile defense system that could never work if one applied common sense.
It's thirty years later.  What kind of energy alternatives could we have had in place now if we hadn't been sleepwalking for the last thirty years?  How much more truly energy independent would be be?  How less poisoned would be the Gulf of Mexico?  How many more employed thousands would there be, doing the same work as Simon?
Now the southern shores of the United States are being killed.  Perhaps we need another nice old Republican actor to put us to sleep so we can't smell the fumes or watch the miracle of the loaves and fishes in reverse.
 
Pearce Shea | 6/3/2010 - 1:19pm
I dunno. My gut reaction to the speech in PA was that Obama seems increasingly more interested in getting his policies through congress than in leading. Or maybe he always was more interested in policy than leading and we are only know catching on. It makes some sense. Given the current political climate and the natural process of erosion that affects presidential approval ratings after an election, I might be inclined to shove through a couple of my "big ideas" before I lose the opportunity.
Anyway, I think piggybacking climate change legislation on the BP disaster is only going to appeal to his base. In part, I think it will only appeal to his base because the BP disaster - climate change legislation connection only feels natural and obvious to his base. It might strike a lot of "independents" as callous, though, especially given the seemingly mounting perception that the White House has failed to really take the reigns on the disaster. 
Anonymous | 6/3/2010 - 10:58am
First, Obama is seeking political cover as soon as possible because he knows his hide is on the line.  His response to this crisis has been "ineffective" if you will, but unfortunately given the earlier missteps, this is no longer surprising.  Obama might now even have had already a climate bill if he had not pulled the rug from under Sen. Graham who was working very hard with Sen. Kerry to put the final touches on a bill that had large bipartisan support.  In direct contravention to Sen. Graham's very clear statement that he would not move forward if immigration were on the table, Obama (as usual) turned his back on Graham and moved ahead.  I know you tend to look to other explanations that incompetence when it comes to the President, but I fear the country may be waking to this reality far sooner than you're hagiography suggests.
 
Second, you overlook 2 critical and more important causes: the radical environmental fear-mongering that has weakened this country's ability to explore and exploit its own energy resources and the regulatory break-down that Obama would like (again, surprise surprise) to pin on George W. Bush.  Your solution to that second problem is more regulation.  But without exploring the regulatory framework itself, a framework driven in large part by reaction to the hyperventilating evnrionmentalists, you will end up in the same place.
 
The hard truth is that EVERY energy source carries risks for horrendous accidents.  We have to assess risk and make prudent judgments.  But it is disheartening to me, that in the midst of a very tenuous economic recovery, the Obama administration favors an drilling ban that will lay of tens of thousands of blue-collar, middle-class workers.  These workers are not big oil lackeys or the rich that liberals like to hate on; they're hard-working ordinary people that rely on these jobs for their livelihoods.  But the Pres, seeking cover from his left, apparently says to hell with them.  THAT is a very bad place to be in.