Diary

Never let a crisis go to waste

Barack Obama ran a campaign of “Hope & Change”. I see little hope and change for the worse for the rest of this “historic” presidency:

CLINTON CATALYZED GULF OIL DRILLING BOOM

Just as the subprime mortgage crisis had its roots in the Clinton Administration decision to require Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to find enough low income borrowers so that half their loans were subprime, the Gulf oil spill also had its roots in misguided policies begun by the Clinton Administration.

In 1995, President Clinton signed the Outer Continental Shelf Deepwater Royalty Relief Act which exempted oil wells drilled deep in the Gulf from the normal royalty payments they would normally have owed the government for their oil. Usually, these payments amount to between 12% and 16% of their revenues, so exemption from this requirement did a great deal to catalyze drilling in deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of the Administration action, deepwater oil production in the Gulf increased rapidly, growing from 42 million barrels annually in 1996 to 348 million in 2004. The latter figure represents about 6% of total United States oil consumption and about 15% of domestic production. Natural gas production from deepwater Gulf drilling increased tenfold during the same period.

Instead, the oil industry took its cue from Washington and went full speed ahead into drilling and production in deepwater Gulf oil wells with the predictable result that something, somehow, sometime would go very, very wrong and that nobody would have the faintest idea of what to do about it.

This decision to embark on vast Gulf oil drilling was, of course, the correct one. But the failure to think through how to avert a disaster on the magnitude of that which is now on our hands is the height of irresponsibility. The Deepwater Horizon well was one of those catalyzed by the Clinton legislation and began drilling in 2001.

But, as with the subprime crisis, policy initiatives taken during the Clinton years – with the best of motives – were implemented without adequate regulation and without due consideration of the dangers involved. We are now suffering mightily for this failure of foresight and planning.

Obama needs to read this:

The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan: September 15, 1994

One of the primary purposes of the NCP (National Contingency Plan) is to provide for efficient, coordinated, and effective action to minimize adverse impact from oil discharges and hazardous substance releases.

The major revisions to the NCP being promulgated today reflect OPA (Oil Pollution Act) revisions to CWA (Clean Water Act) section 311. These changes increase Presidential authority to direct cleanup of oil spills and hazardous substance releases and augment preparedness and planning activities on the part of the federal government.

EPA does not believe that the provision suggested by the commenter – essentially preempting all Federal and State law when the OSC (On-Scene Coordinator) directs response to a discharge – is authorized by the OPA. Furthermore, adding such a provision to the NCP (National Contingency Plan) appears to be unnecessary. Section 311(c)(1) of the CWA, as amended by the OPA, gives the OSC authority to “direct or monitor all Federal, State, and private actions to remove a discharge.” The same provision also authorizes the OSC to remove or arrange for the removal and, if necessary, destroy a vessel that is discharging. In addition, if a discharge poses a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States, CWA section 311(c)(2), as amended, requires the OSC to direct all Federal, State, and private actions to remove the discharge and gives the OSC authority to carry out the other actions mentioned in section 311)(c)(1) “without regard to any other provisions of law governing contracting procedures or employment of personnel by the Federal Government.”

Congress explicitly provided for limited preemption only for contracting and employment laws and the limited preemption applies only when a discharge poses a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States.

Mr. President, it is all laid out in black & white. Documents written by lawyers that you should understand. You ran for President, you won and it is your responsibility under “The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan” to use your powers to get things done.

And yet:

Environmentalists give Barack Obama a pass on oil spill

As the greatest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history has played out on Obama’s watch, the environmental movement has essentially given him a pass — all but refusing to unleash any vocal criticism against the president even as the public has grown more frustrated by Obama’s performance. 

“These guys have bet the farm on this administration,” said Ted Nordhaus, chairman of an environmental think tank, the Breakthrough Institute. “There has been a real hesitancy to criticize this administration out of a sense that they’re kind of the only game in town. … These guys are so beholden to this administration to move their agenda that I think they’re unwilling to criticize them.”

Several analysts said the low profile of the large environmental groups since the disaster is due in large part to uncertainty about the impact of the spill on the strategy for passing pending climate legislation. Environmental groups are leery of alienating Obama as he weighs how hard to push a sweeping cap-and-trade energy bill to rein in carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

Asked if Sierra Club has any concerns about the administration’s response to the spill, Willett said, “Overall, we’re satisfied with the cleanup and recovery effort.”

Meanwhile:

BP agrees to expedite oil spill payments

BP said Thursday it plans to boost its ability to capture the oil gushing from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico by early next week as the Obama administration announced that the oil giant agreed to speed up payments to people whose livelihoods have been washed away by the spill.

Despite anger with BP, some lawmakers and Louisiana residents reiterated their call to end the 6-month deep-water drilling moratorium, saying it will cause economic hardship in the region. “Every one of these 33 deep-water wells employs, directly, hundreds of people and indirectly thousands,” Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu said in an interview Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Cleanup of the gooey oil continued along the Gulf Coast. In Orange Beach, Ala., reddish-brown globs of oil the size of credit cards littered the beach at the tide line as a blue farm tractor loaded with shovels and other cleanup equipment chugged down the beach.

County commissioners in Florida’s southern Escambia County approved $700,00 in emergency funding to promote the Pensacola area’s beaches as tar and oil sheen began breaking through a boom designed to protect inland waterways.

Outside the meeting, about two dozen men, some in fishing waders, carried signs criticizing BP. One of the men, Dennis Miller, who has been fishing for more than four decades, said they are frustrated because there is nothing to do. “We’re just worried,” Miller said. “We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do when they shut the whole Gulf down. And we know that’s coming.”