Limited government can, and often does, lead to unlimited pollution and unlimited disasters.

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.

13 Responses to Limited government can, and often does, lead to unlimited pollution and unlimited disasters.

  1. Chris Dudley says:

    I’m not sure that collecting money to deal with future disasters really helps all that much. The disasters still happen and always will because these are desperate efforts to obtain oil. Better to ban offshore drilling entirely.

  2. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Banning a damaging technolgy at home without banning the import of its specific products from abroad has proven both counter-productive and unethical.

    Those who doubt this should look at how the corporations behave with small beer governments abroad.

    For example, have a look at what’s happening in the Niger Delta.



  3. Dean Baker has an important little book that addresses many of the mythologies around the “conservatives like small government” canard, The Conservative Nanny State. It really is not an issue of big vs. small government, but rather one of where and to whose advantage the government will intervene. The issue is not really one of “regulation” vs. “no regulation;” rather it is one of which regulations, and to whose benefit?

  4. Lewis Cleverdon says:


    The rational approach is surely to grant no new offshore licences,
    to impose stringent external regulation on the shrinking US fleet of rigs,
    and to require any oil corporation listed on the US stock exchange to uphold those standards worldwide.



  5. Leif says:

    Yet another rational approach in my view would be to mandate that Corporations factor in all of the environmental and social costs into their corporate decisions before profits. Failure to do so is punished by disassociation for the company and jail for the top management.

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    From The American Chemical Society’s Position Statement on Global Climate Change:

    “Recommendation 2a— The U.S. should immediately adopt nationwide goals for rapid and deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions and develop effective economic drivers to achieve these goals.”

    The full Position Statement can be found here, on the ACS’s website:

    Let’s get with it, people.



  7. Barry says:

    Big Oil, over-optimistic scenarios, lack of adequate contingency planning, Halliburton, multi-year disaster and quagmire? Hmmmm…haven’t we seen this pattern before?

    Is it:
    A) “Cheney’s Chernobyl”?
    B) “Dick’s Slick”?
    C) “Shill, Baby, Shill”?
    D) Sadly predictable?
    E) all of the above and more!

    And the winner is…for the 83rd year in a row…dirty energy fat-cats. Better luck next year to all the rest of us losers.

  8. Yogi -One says:

    A basic problem is that the Supreme Court has decided to be against the people of the United States by allowing huge corporations to spend as much money as they can to influence politicians.

    What this means is that BP will pump even more money into lobbying to water down any efforts to regulate or stop offshore drilling, and will set its spinmeisters on yet another propaganda campaign to convince us of that BP means “Beyond Petroleum,” or maybe some overpaid advertising genius will create a new branding slogan.

    This should be a wake-up call to Americans to stop playing softball with Big Oil. We need to impose stringent restrictions on their activities and use economic carrots and sticks to force them to truly get “beyond petroleum.”

    BP is mounting a cleanup simply because they have to. BP is not cleaning up voluntarily, believe me, because the shareholderes see it as an expense which is not balanced out by increased sales. That’s why they didn’t develop appropriate emergency response procedures in the first place.

    The mandate to ‘drill, baby, drill’ and make profits once again wipes out any common sense approach such a big and risky undertaking. Cost: 11 lives, the whole rig, billions of dollars in damage, the decimating of Louisiana’s shrimping industry, decimating of the Gulf coast tourism industry, and the thing that they really roll their eyes at when anyone mentions it – huge damage to the ecosystem.

    Instead, BP will see this as a PR challenge, and a call to redouble its lobbying efforts to prevent effective regulation. They will simply threaten to stop funding politicians who don’t comply with them.

    And apparently, the Supreme Court thinks this is the way it ought to be.

    My message to BP is this: “Beyond petroleum”, my ass. BP should be shut down.

    And the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to shovel unlimited money at politicians needs to be overturned.

    The members of the Supreme Court should realize the role they play in these disatsters. Oil spills, coal mine explosions, and economic collapses are all intimately tied up with big corporations’ ability to buy politicians.

    It’s an unmistakeable connection that links the Supreme Court directly to the catastrophic effects of deregulation of the huge industries, who have bought the political process, and the Supreme Court, who is supposed to be a check and balance mechanism in our society just stood there with a big green light, trying, in effect, to legalize the corruption process.

    So has anyone written to the Supreme Court to point out their responsibility when these catastrophes happen?

  9. Rocky Raneldo says:

    As late as last Thursday, DHS director napalitano didn’t know if the Defense department had clean up equipment. It appears the learning curve is rather slow since President Bush.

    [JR: Yes, blame the victim. Seriously, the see-no-evil “regulatory oversight” of Bush-Cheney helped give us this mess. After the fact cleanup is all but impossible for a mess of this magnitude and complexity, as 20-year-veteran of the Coast Guard Brulle noted.]

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    Chris –
    “Better to ban offshore drilling entirely.”

    The US does not have the power to ban offshore drilling everywhere in the world. We can stop offshore drilling locally, but not globally.

    Until we give people adequate non-petroleum transportation we will burn oil. That oil has to come from somewhere. We’ve pumped the easy.

    What if this spill had been off the beach of some underdeveloped country suffering a very corrupt government, what do you suspect the rate of mitigation and cleanup would be?

    Might the oil have poured out for months and months rather than days and weeks?

    What would be the impact of an entire continental coast being covered with crude? And how about an enormous oil slick drifting back and forth across an ocean, visiting multiple continents as the winds shift?

  11. Bob Wallace says:

    Rocky – The Coast Guard has oil spill equipment. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Defense. In addition the Navy sent oil skimmers to the site.

    Wouldn’t be trying to smear the current administration, would you?

    This topic seems to be a current favorite on right wing sites….

  12. mike roddy says:

    I second Chris- no more offshore drilling in US waters. The reason they allowed it in the Gulf is that the population is considered to be rubes who will risk destroying ecosystems to keep gas in their trucks.

    You’re right about DC, Yogi 1, but don’t hold your breath. Idealism these days is considered to be for suckers.

    Bi gushing spills in deep offshore wells are inevitable. They had them off the coast of Mexico and Brazil, too, with the same companies involved. Yes, BP is bad at maintenance, but it’s the process, not a specific error.

  13. Bob Wallace says:

    How about we take a moment to revisit the original article from which Rocky has gleaned his attack?

    First, let’s remember that in the first few days after the explosion there was no evidence that a massive leak had happened or might happen…

    “Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the chief Coast Guard official in charge of the response, said on April 22, after the rig sank, that the oil that was on the surface appeared to be merely residual oil from the fire, though she said it was unclear what was going on underwater. The day after, officials said that it appeared the well’s blowout preventer had kicked in and that there did not seem to be any oil leaking from the well, though they cautioned it was not a guarantee.

    BP officials, even after the oil leak was confirmed by using remote-controlled robots, expressed confidence that the leak was slow enough, and steps taken out in the Gulf of Mexico aggressive enough, that the oil would never reach the coast.”

    Then the leak started/became more obvious. Estimates started lower and built over days. Apparently during the period between April 23 “residual oil” and it being obvious that there was a major problem by ‘that Thursday’, April 28 a second and third leak were discovered and estimates were raised from 1,000 to 5,000 or more barrels per day.

    Now let’s look at the full context from which Napitano’s statement was “harvested”….

    “The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was “a spill of national significance,” and then set up a second command center in Mobile. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.

    The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Ms. Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.”

    That would be Thursday, when the leak was understood to be five times more than earlier estimates. Faced with a problem of that magnitude might one understand that Secretary Napolitano was saying that she did not know if the DoD had equipment that was capable of handling a spill of that proportion?

    Certainly she would have know that the Coast Guard (part of the DoD) had been quickly on the job. They reported no leaks for the first few days. They had their normal containment equipment on scene soon after the initial explosion.

    And let’s throw in this bit from the Admiral in charge of the US Coast Guard…

    “Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said Friday that he agreed the situation was catastrophic and could continue to unfold for up to three months, but he said he remained satisfied with his team’s response, saying that even if it had initially known that the leak was 5,000 barrels a day, the response would have been the same. “While it may not have been visible to the public, from the very start, we have been working this very hard,” he said.

    Within a matter of hours of the report of the explosion, the Coast Guard had dispatched three cutters, four helicopters and a plane to the scene, helping to save 90 workers, including three critically injured ones who were sent by helicopter for emergency care.

    “We have never tried so many different methods for a large spill on the surface as we have during this, and I have been doing oil spill response for 30 years,” Admiral Allen said.”

    Rocky, you say “slow learning curve”.

    I say “hit piece post”.