What is Obama supposed to do about BP’s disaster?
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 is still issuing permits. Despite the catastrophe of the Gulf oil geyser, Obama wants to expand offshore drilling. The rationale for this is articulated by Interior 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 days worth 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 doing any 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 using busted 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.