Waiting for the anger

I waited. I waited and waited. Then I waited some more. What was I waiting for? I was waiting for Barack Obama to express the outrage I felt at the destruction of our wetlands and sea caused by a company that, it is becoming more and more obvious, put profits ahead of safety.

Eleven people are dead, an entire ecosystem is in the process of being destroyed, thousands of livelihoods have been wiped out and our president is just now, over a month later, starting to sound angry.  Had George Bush been president during this disaster and acted this way, the Democrats would have hung him out to dry.

It is a sign of how out of touch our president is with public frustration and outrage when you hear no less a committed Democrat than James Carville on NPR with his voice shaking in clear anger at the hands off attitude that seems to have pervaded this administration in dealing with the spill and its aftermath.

I find little comfort in the fact that the president has finally said that BP will be held accountable. I find less comfort in the fact that he is now claiming that the government has been in charge since the day the spill happened. Because if that is true, he and his administration have now surpassed the Bush Administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in being totally, pathetically ineffectual.

With each day that the government and BP dance around each other, more sea life dies, more wetlands are devastated, and more jobs and lives are forever changed.  Ask the people of Prince William Sound how responsive Exxon was to the devastation left by its disaster. Ask them how much the federal government stood firm against Exxon and made them meet their obligations. Ask them if, twenty years later, life has ever returned to normal.

There are some who argue that accidents happen and this blow out is but one of them… the cost of doing business when you’re drilling in the deep sea for oil.  But BP received permission to drill based on their assurance that they had the technology needed to avert a catastrophic spill or mitigate its damages. Clearly, BP had neither. They either lied or simply didn’t have a clue. Neither answer is very reassuring for the future.

In fact, the truth is potentially even more horrendous because there were safeguards in place that were warning of a major crisis about to erupt and they were ignored.

As for mitigating the effects of the catastrophe, am I the only one who noticed that the oil industry was no more prepared to mitigate the effects of this spill on the environment than they had been to mitigate the effects of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound?

Same old booms came out to contain the oil, same scratching of the heads as the oil hit the beaches and destroyed wildlife habitat, same questions that techniques being used might cause more harm than good. 

Would I be wrong to assume the industry did nothing in the past twenty years to advance their knowledge of how to clean up a spill?  Would I be wrong to guess that since developing clean-up techniques is not a money making proposition, it went to the bottom of priorities… right below testing to see if techniques that work on the ocean shelf are also operationally safe in deep waters?

And where is our public indignation as entire species sink into extinction?  Perhaps our addiction to oil causes us to be cautious in our criticism of anything the industry does.  Addicts don’t mouth off to their suppliers for fear of being forced into withdrawal.

For over a month oil has spewed into what David Letterman refers to as the “New Dead Sea”. We’ll never know how much since BP hasn’t decided how much to tell us about.  Given the fact that lawyers for generations into the future will be arguing liability for this spill in court, I’m guessing BP will never honestly confess to the amount.

I am at a loss as to why the president is not more strongly conveying our outrage to BP. It leaves this administration looking as hapless as Bush and Brownie during Katrina. And here I thought we’d traded up.