Friday, 18 June 2010

The Presidential Address: Remarks on the BP Oil Spill

Alright. Obama.

Honestly I didn’t find a lot in his address, which can be found in full text (and video) here. He seemed to me to start out well, and then kind of fade out and finish in the same political blah-blah that we always hear.

So, he’s “directed” BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology in their efforts to stop the leak. The goal is that in a few weeks (weeks!) they will be capturing up to (up to…) 90% of the spewing oil, until the relief well is finished and it can be plugged for good.

A few excerpts:

“Already, this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it's not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years.”

This is a good point that I’m finding many people aren’t quite grasping. This will be going on for some time. It’s not an isolated disturbance that we can hurry up and fix, it’s an ongoing problem – and it will be for literally decades. I see a lot of people online saying things like “UGH, they’re still talking about the oil spill? Isn’t that over?” No, honey, it’s not. This ain’t no spill of orange juice on your countertop. We can’t Brawny this away.

“You know, for generations, men and women who call this region home have made their living from the water. That living is now in jeopardy. I've talked to shrimpers and fishermen who don't know how they're going to support their families this year. I've seen empty docks and restaurants with fewer customers -- even in areas where the beaches are not yet affected. I've talked to owners of shops and hotels who wonder when the tourists might start coming back. The sadness and the anger they feel is not just about the money they've lost. It's about a wrenching anxiety that their way of life may be lost.”

This I like, because maybe – just maybe – people will begin to realize that our environment and our economy are indivisibly linked. I feel like there’s a common want to separate the two: The fish were here when I started, they’ll always be here. They’re a given and I don’t need to worry about them. Since the fish will always be here, my fish shop will always be successful. Since the fish were “always” there, and “always” will be (obviously a wishful assumption), there was no need to worry about environmental impacts before. The fish aren’t going anywhere – they’ve always been here! Meanwhile, rising water temperatures, pollution, climate change are all affecting the fish. Now a big huge thing like the oil spill happens…well now there’s a problem! BP ruined my environment, my fish! How can I be successful if my environment is degraded? They ruined my fish shop! In part, this is true. BP did mess up. But I think something like this forces people to realize that our economy is truly based on our natural resources, and without those we’re in trouble. Maybe after we suffer the losses that this spill will undeniably bring, better management and a more dedicated eye can be kept on our environmental wealth.

“The oil spill represents just the latest blow to a place that's already suffered multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats. And the region still hasn't recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That's why we must make a commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment. I make that commitment tonight. Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, who is also a former governor of Mississippi and a son of the Gulf Coast, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible. The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists and other Gulf residents. And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region.”

How much you wanna bet it’s for like five years? But I’m glad they’re thinking about the long-term anyhow. I’m hopeful. Apparently BP has agreed to set aside funds to deal with loss claims resulting from the spill. Obama mentioned the funds would have to be managed by an “independent third party.” Not to be cynical, but who’s “independent” anymore? Oil lobbyists are known for infiltrating just about everything.

On the Minerals Management Service:

“Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility -- a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations. When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it's now clear that the problem there ran much deeper.

Obviously, I mean come one. Connections in the oil industry have always been legendary. Everybody knows, and there are road blocks at every corner when it comes to something that goes against an oil company’s practices or profits. I am pretty excited, however, that fellow oil tycoons are beginning to back away from BP in light of this event. Maybe a change will occur.

“But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world's oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. And that's part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean -- because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water. For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we've talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.”

This one’s sad but true, and I think we all know it. I’m still skeptical a real move away from fossil fuels will take place. I feel like it’s often said but never done. Maybe it’s my frustration, maybe it’s true. Actually – it is true. Obviously. The average American household has two cars! People nearly crank the heat when it’s 69° and turn up the A/C when it’s 71°! Seriously, though. I think the real change needs to come from the people. Politicians and energy companies need to make it available to us, yes, but it’s our job to switch to cleaner energy. You might have to pay a few more cents to get your electricity powered by wind turbines, but you’re doing the right thing. And the more people who switch, the cheaper it will become over time. The demand needs to be there. The change needs to be pressured from the bottom up – and many of us are doing that. There’s definitely hope.

Going back to the actual oil spill – it will take time. The end is not in sight yet. Hopefully the Obama administration can come through on its promises. I’m crossing my fingers.

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