President Obama’s response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the least you could expect under the circumstances. And he is under attack from the right wing even for that.
When the seriousness of the disaster became apparent, President Obama formed a task force of top administration officials, while the Secretaries of the Interior and of Homeland Security and then Obama himself flew to the scene. But they left the actual work of trying to cap the spill was left to BP. President Obama scolded BP, the oil rig owner Transocean and the oil services company Halliburton, but he reaffirmed his policy of continuing offshore oil drilling.
He announced a temporary moratorium on new oil drilling, and since then there have been seven new drilling permits and five environmental waivers (no permits for new wells, however). He announced he will appoint a special commission to investigate the causes of the disaster and make recommendations, and one of the first two appointees to the commission is the head of the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.
From the standpoint of the shrimp fishermen and property-owners along the Gulf Coast, this must seem like thin soup. But it is too strong for Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican Senatorial candidate. He said it is “un-American” for Obama administration officials to speak so harshly of BP, a foreign-owned company formerly known as British Petroleum.
Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican objected to a proposal to increase the cap on oil company liability for such disasters from $75 million to $10 billion (that’s million and billion) because it would be too burdensome. BP’s profit was $26.5 billion in 2008 and $14 billion last year, so such liability would not put it out of business.
But all these folks seem positively reasonable compared to Rush Limbaugh, who speculated, on the basis of nothing at all, that supporters of President Obama may have sabotaged the oil well in order to advance some kind of environmentalist agenda.
We don’t yet know how bad the Gulf disaster will be. Some scientists expect a long-term degradation of the Gulf fishery and environment, rather than spectacular pollution as in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster.
And we don’t whether better regulation could have averted the disaster. Maybe if we follow the best practices of the oil industry elsewhere, such as in the North Sea, we can guarantee it won’t happen again. Maybe it is inherently impossible to drill for oil 5,000 feet beneath the ocean floor and do it safely. When you stop and think about it, it is amazing that it is possible at all.
The country wouldn’t suffer if we suspend drilling for now. The Gulf provides a tiny fraction of our oil supply and provides a tiny fraction of our reserves. If we ever really need it, it will be there. It won’t go away – except of the millions of gallons each day gushing out into the ocean from the failed Deepwater Horizon well.