Is the oil spill “Obama’s Katrina”? Yes, absolutely; in the utterly trivial sense that it’s a horrible thing that happened while he was president. But the government had an agency, called FEMA, in place specifically to deal with hurricanes and stocked with people whose expertise was in that field.
Or at least it did, during the Clinton administration. George Bush put one of his old college buddies in charge of it, whose only expertise was in managing Arabian horse shows, and otherwise used the agency to dole out plum jobs to supporters.
So when Katrina hit, the government agency tasked with providing relief from natural disasters, tripped over its own shoelaces.
Conservatives, smarting from that criticism have been trying to pin some crisis of incompetence on Obama but for the most part he’s done a very capable job. He’s even pretty much restored FEMA. But he has had his hands full trying to get his agenda (the one we elected him on, remember?) moved forward with every Republican and quite a few Blue Dog Democrats throwing banana peels at his feet.
There are some parallels between Katrina and the BP spill. There’s even an incompetent government agency, the MMS, tasked not with responding to a disaster like this, but preventing it. And they’ve been rubber-stamping drilling applications right and left. But how did it become incompetent? Obama’s new director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, wasn’t able to stop the practice and go back and retroactively fix all the old rubber-stamped ones in the scant nine months she was on the job.
Think about what it means to turn an agency around: first you have to get the new director approved. That hasn’t been easy with the Republicans stonewalling new appointments for reasons that blaze new frontiers of triviality. Then that person has to review the existing operation, devise new policies, and if necessary hire new people to implement them. It’s anybody’s guess how cooperative the old-guard staff were with her efforts to do this.
Enter Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer prize-winner and smug conservative party liner, who thinks the BP spill is the Republicans’ big chance:
Here’s my question: Why are we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?
Many reasons, but this one goes unmentioned: Environmental chic has driven us out there. As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama’s tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.) And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we’ve had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
So we go deep, ultra deep — to such a technological frontier that no precedent exists for the April 20 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Charles Krauthammer: Oil spill could be Obama’s Katrina.
Get that? The spill is the environmentalists’ fault! Rush Limbaugh said the same thing so you know this is a talking point making the rounds of the Republican intellectual vaccuusphere.
Reality check: it isn’t “environmental chic”, it’s both science and economics. The tiny amount that Arctic Refuge oil would push the “peak” into the future simply wouldn’t be worth the environmental cost.
And environmentalists weren’t in favor of offshore drilling, either. We’ve been saying the entire carbon energy industry is unsustainable. But the oil companies have been relentless not only in lobbying for access but also in spreading confusion about the real costs of different kinds of energy. So when vote-driven politicians (who as a class aren’t particularly literate about environmental issues) make a decision, they take the fewest political risks they can.
We have had at least an entire generation for the transition from carbon energy to renewables. During that time, little has been done because the public has not understood either the external costs or the global risks. Well some people are damn well getting the message now.
The carbon energy industry is guilty of a profit-driven crime against humanity. Not just the Deepwater, but the effects on our climate and on the Ocean pH as well. It’s time to add it all up and see the real picture.