Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Buck Stops... Somewhere?

100520-F-2117V-257Like John Cole and many others, I'm very angry about the oil spill and I want the President to take swift and decisive action but what should those actions be? Flying off the handle and pounding out a thousand words demanding action without being able to say what that action actually looks like isn't constructive, helpful or a particularly brave thing to do. The challenges in dealing with this spill are tremendous but that doesn't mean that there are no solutions at all to be offered and it certainly does not excuse the President's inaction. Here are a few obvious issues that have jumped out at me over the last few days.

First, it sure looks like Ken Salazar was slow on the uptake in dealing with the Mineral Management Service. Their history of sex and drugs with the oil industry was well known and reforming MMS should have been a much higher priority. The administration needs to take a hard look at Salazar's team and find out why MMS was still operating as the oil industry's handmaiden.

But that won't stop the oil now or clean it up so what can be done right now improve the situation in the Gulf?

Reports indicate that BP is struggling with the logistics of this operation. There are no better logisticians in the world than in the United States Military. Put the Coast Guard in charge of coordinating these efforts. It's time for BP to start taking directions.

BP is still calling all of the shots because it is their equipment, their expertise and their money (for now) that are driving this operation. That's all well and good and where BP has better infrastructure in place to handle this disaster we should be relying on that infrastructure. But that doesn't mean that BP should be in charge of this operation, not after 5 weeks of futility.

Looking forward the United States Coast Guard should have a rapid response division to deal with offshore ecological disasters. That means the United States government must have its own stable of divers, laborers, engineers, equipment and whatever other tools are needed to cap an under sea well on hand and at the ready. We shouldn't have to rely on a private company to clean up their own spill. If our national energy policy dictates that we must drill off-shore than we should be prepared to handle the consequences of that drilling. Clearly we are not and that is outrageous. Is our government prepared in case of an accident at a nuclear power plant? This scenario is no different.

In today's New York Times Bob Herbert strikes at the core of the issue facing the President,
Steadily increasing numbers of anxiety-ridden coastal residents are watching not just their livelihoods but an entire way of life slip away. Even as BP’s lawyers are consumed with the task of limiting the company’s liability, the administration continues to insist it has little choice but to follow the company’s lead in fighting the spill. That is dangerous nonsense.

President Obama has an obligation to make it unmistakably clear that BP’s interests are not the same as America’s interests. He needs to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people who are taking the brunt of this latest corporate outrage. The oil has now stained nearly 70 miles of the Louisiana Coast. No one can say what terrible toll the gusher is taking in the depths of the gulf. And spreading right along with the oil is a pervasive and dismaying sense of helplessness from our leaders in Washington.

I didn't accept excuses from Republicans in the wake of Katrina that it was incumbent upon state and local officials to save New Orleans and I won't accept similar excuses today from President Obama. The buck has to stop somewhere and in the United States the buck stops at the President's desk. Obama's team didn't create the regulatory mess that led up to this disaster but Obama is the President now and like it or not this is his problem to solve.

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