Op-ed with Podesta on the voluntary ‘trust us’, self-regulation pushed by BP and Big Oil — and the energy choice we now face
The unfolding ecological disaster on the Gulf Coast reveals the stark contrast in the energy choices that the Senate “” and the nation “” are due to make in coming months.
Do we embrace the Senate energy and climate bill, to be debated this summer, which puts a penalty on pollution and propels the transition to the clean, safe energy of the 21st century?
Or do we let the forces of obstruction “” led by Big Oil and special-interest polluters “” win, ensuring America’s continued addiction to the dirty, unsafe energy of the 19th century?
CAP’s CEO and I have an op-ed in today’s Politico, “The need to beat our oil addiction.” Here’s the rest:
The two big energy stories last week “” the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the Obama administration’s approval of the East Coast’s first big offshore wind farm “” demonstrate the choices in the sharpest possible way.
What is likely to become one of the most damaging spills in history unveils the hidden costs of our addiction to fossil fuels. The truth is, fossil fuels are injurious in so many ways “” to our health, the environment and national security. We must rethink our faith in an industry that always promises new technology will make disasters “” like the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska or the even worse 1979 Ixtoc I Gulf of Mexico blowout “” things of the past.
When so many Americans are taking to the streets to protest what they view as government authority run amok, last week also offers important lessons about the role of government.
BP, the company that leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and some of its sister companies in the oil business, have long demanded a voluntary “trust us,” self-regulatory framework. BP and other companies fought efforts by the federal Minerals Management Service to impose tougher safety standards for offshore drilling, arguing for a voluntary approach.
BP, in its drilling plan, also misled federal authorities about the potential effects of a spill from the rig. Then, after disaster struck, BP kept lowballing the spill numbers “” creating the impression that the company could handle the leak on its own.
As people in the affected Gulf states are now learning “” and people in West Virginia learned earlier this month, when 29 coal miners died in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine “” limited government can, and often does, lead to unlimited pollution and unlimited disasters.
While some now take comfort from the massive federal response to this oil spill, the facts are that even the most aggressive cleanup efforts are largely ineffective; these kinds of accidents impose staggering costs, and the environmental impacts persist for many years.
The only effective strategy is strong regulatory oversight to prevent disasters in the near term. And getting off oil in the longer term.
Consider the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, 21 years ago.
That 10.8-million-gallon spill “” likely to be dwarfed by the BP spill, now estimated by some experts at 25,000 barrels, or more than 1 million gallons a day “” cost as much as $7 billion for cleanup efforts, claims settlements and fines, including some $300 million in economic harm to Alaskans dependent on commercial fishing.
In Alaska, the more than $2 billion in cleanup efforts recovered just 8 percent of the spilled oil. Some species still have not recovered.
The BP spill is likely to go on for weeks, and it is aimed directly at the world’s most productive fishery, whose total economic impact, just in Louisiana, is $2.3 billion, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Who will make the fishermen whole?
For starters, BP should “” by having its first-quarter profit of $5.6 billion put in an escrow account for compensation. In addition, raising federal royalty rates on all offshore drillers could provide funds for this and future disasters.
Having first embraced drilling, the Obama administration has now prudently suspended new offshore drilling, pending an investigation into the April 20 disaster. Not only does Obama’s decision to protect the West Coast and the Northeast Coast seem wise in retrospect, it should be enshrined in law.
In its first year, the administration has aggressively pursued clean energy in the economic recovery effort. It has put forward a major increase in automobile fuel efficiency, which represents the biggest decrease in heat-trapping greenhouse gases in history.
Now, the administration and Congress should get down to the business of passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation that promises a more sustainable and less destructive future.