The Biloxi Sun Herald reports that oil began covering two miles of Mississippi’s Petit Bois Island yesterday as a “larger glob crept close to Dauphin Island in Alabama, and the edge of the main slick has moved to within about 35 miles of Mississippi, about half the distance it was last week.” Much of the oil hitting the beaches had “escaped detection because it was floating a couple of feet below the surface.” Reacting to the looming disaster, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) sounded the alarm to local press yesterday. “This could turn out to be something catastrophic and terrible, but that has just not been the case so far,” said Barbour.
Barbour’s rhetoric yesterday strikes a very different note from his upbeat tone since the spill. Shortly after the spill, Barbour encouraged tourists to “enjoy the beach,” even as dead dolphins were washing ashore. In another instance, Barbour incredulously declared, “some in the news media keep forcing this on the public as the equivalent of Exxon Valdez. Well, the difference is just enormous.”
And as early as last week, Barbour went on CNN to blame “news coverage” for the state’s woes, telling Wolf Blitzer that “we haven’t had enough oil hit Mississippi’s beaches to fill up a milk jug.” Barbour went out of his way to lavish praise on BP, exclaiming that the British oil conglomerate has been completely cooperative:
BARBOUR: But we haven’t had, really, any impact. I mean, we haven’t had enough oil hit Mississippi’s beaches to fill up a milk jug. Now, we’re prepared and we’re prepared for the worst. But thus far, we haven’t had any kind of incursion, except the news coverage is killing our tourist business. Everybody thinks that the Gulf Coast all the way around is ankle deep in oil. And, of course, it’s not. [...]
BARBOUR: We have. BP has never said no to any requests we have made. Now, some requests we’ve made they haven’t been able to perform. But they have never said no. The federal government, whether it’s the Coast Guard or whomever, has worked hard with us. Like I say, they’re giving a lot more attention to Louisiana and should be. But we are satisfied that they’re trying as hard as they can and that they are being very cooperative. I’m not going to complain.
Barbour’s rise in politics has been largely fueled by the oil and gas industry. When Barbour served as the chairman on the RNC during the 1994 and 1996 election cycles, he courted oil and coal companies to donate over $30 million to Republicans — nearly three times the amount given to Democrats. The lobbying firm Barbour founded relied highly on oil industry clients, with Barbour personally lobbying for regulation changes to the Bush White House. And Barbour’s election to his current office owes directly to his friends in the fossil fuel business — oil and gas companies provided $1.8 million dollars in contributions when Barbour ran for Governor.
While Barbour shilled for BP during the first weeks of BP’s oil crisis, Mississippi’s oily beaches may force him to reconsider his pro-BP posture.
Barbour has downplayed the oil spill and encouraged families to continue to visit the state and enjoy the natural environment. “We don’t wash our face in it, but it doesn’t stop us from jumping off the boat to ski,” Barbour said in mid-May. Earlier today, CNN reported that families have been spotted swimming on Mississippi beaches soaked in oil. A reporter saw a child covered in and playing with oil, even as clean up crews worked nearby.