You are browsing the archive for gulf oil spill.

BP Doesn’t Want You Filming, Move Along Now

8:17 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 Photo by MindfulWalker

 

Drew Wheelan, conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association chose to film a video in Houma, Louisiana, with a BP building in the background. He stood right in a field that was private property but was not owned by BP. A police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggested” he get lost because BP didn’t want people filming.

 

 

The two went back and forth. Wheelan asked if he was “violating any laws or anything like that.” The officer said “not particularly” but that BP didn’t want people filming. Wheelan said he was not on BP’s property and they had nothing to say about what he was doing right now. The officer restated that BP didn’t want people filming and then added all he could really do is strongly suggest he “not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

 

Wheelan continued the work he was doing. He finished up, got in his car and drove away only to be pulled over by the same cop. This time the cop had someone with him named Kenneth Thomas, who had a badge that read “Chief BP Security.”  Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes asking “who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana, “phoned Wheelan’s information in, tried to figure out if he had any outstanding warrants, and then confiscated Wheelan’s Audubon volunteer badge from an Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training he had recently attended.

 

After bullying Wheelan for a period of time, he was let go, but as he drove away, “two unmarked security cars” followed him. He pulled over to figure out if they were following him. Each time he pulled over, the two unmarked vehicles pulled over behind him.

 

This is what Mac McClelland reported weeks ago from Louisiana. It’s one example of the authoritarian state that the corporation, BP, and the government, through the Coast Guard, National Guard, police officers, etc, have erected in the aftermath of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In the context of the society we live in, it is less of an anomaly than one might think.

 

Under “Spy Files,” in a post published in the last week of June titled, “More About Suspicious Activity Reporting,” the ACLU connects the targeting of photographers to the expansion of “suspicious activity reporting” (SAR) programs (programs set up to encourage the public to report ‘suspicious’ activities of their neighbors to law enforcement or intelligence agencies”):

 

Photographers appear to be the most frequent targets of SAR and SAR-like information collection efforts. Whether lawfully photographing scenic railroad stations, government-commissioned art displays outside federal buildings or national landmarks, citizens, artists and journalists have been systematically harassed or detained by federal, state, and local law enforcement. In some instances, the ensuing confrontation with police escalates to the point where the photographer is arrested and their photos erased or cameras confiscated with no reasonable indication that criminal activity is involved. A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy even threatened to put a subway photographer on the Terrorist Watchlist. 

Comedian Stephen Colbert had a light-hearted take on the story of a man arrested by Amtrak police for photographing an Amtrak train for an Amtrak photography contest, but illegal arrests of innocent Americans exercising their right to photograph in public (like this and this and this) are happening too often to be just a laughing matter. Congress held hearings into the harassment of photographers at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Several government agencies, including the New York Police Department (NYPD), the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (MUNI), the Department of Transportation, and Amtrak have had to send out memos to their police officers and security personnel reiterating that photography is not a crime. Given the contradictory messages sent by SAR programs, however, it is not surprising there is confusion among the officers on the street…

 

What is the extent that SAR and other security programs have influenced the treatment of journalists, photographers, videographers, freelancers, etc? As the increase in security personnel on the Gulf Coast continues and becomes more and more a part of the narrative on the cleanup response (or lack thereof) in the Gulf, what might the influence of SAR program be on the treatment of press and independent videographers/photographers? How advantageous is the existence of SAR programs to BP and is BP using these programs to advance their agenda, to prevent the production of images, video and news reports that might negatively impact their market share, which recently rose 9 points?

 

One can see BP is exercising full authority with the cooperation of the U.S. government to severely limit access to areas where stories could be produced and told that would not follow BP’s official storyline (which seems to be that they will clean this up and find it honorable to have been tasked with the patriotic duty of “saving” the Gulf Coast). Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, wrote in a recent column:

 “Stories of denial of media access accumulate like tar balls on the beach (which have now made their way into Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain and to beaches in Texas). “PBS NewsHour” reporters were repeatedly denied access to a Department of Health and Human Services “National Disaster Medical System” trailer, ringed with barbed wire. A “CBS Evening News” crew on a boat was accosted by another boat with five BP contractors and two U.S. Coast Guard members, and denied access to an oil-drenched beach.”

 

Adm. Thad Allen issued a directive days before the Fourth of July requiring individuals and organizations to obtain direct permission to get closer than 65 feet to any response vessels or booms out on the water or on beaches. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges. The directive ran counter to a public claim made earlier in June that the media was receiving uninhibited access.

 

McClelland and others have been conducting high-quality investigative reporting, confronting police blockades and areas where media access has been all but limited or shut off.

 

That said, what happened to Wheelan should be distinguished from media organizations. Wheelan does not have the protections someone with credentials might normally have. Individuals who do what they do have little to shield them from police intimidation that might occur as a result of requests made by property owners or nearby property owners. And, law enforcement may not understand what they are being told is repressive and out-of-line. They may not care and, in the case of Wheelan, one might find out the police officer was actually off-duty and working for BP. (To here more, listen to Mac McClelland talking with Glenn Greenwald on Salon Radio.)

 

However, in the case of the Pro Publica journalist being detained, your job in the media may not protect you from security interfering with your work at all.  

BP, Government Block Press from Reporting Their “Ballet at Sea”

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by kk+

 

"As high tourist season approaches, there will be people who ‘come on down to Alabama’ regardless of the oil spill. A delicate balance between preparation for the worst and the pleasure of tourists is in the making."

 

"At first glance, the process looks chaotic, but after a minute of watching the orchestration a brilliant concert plays out. One of the young men of the Alabama National Guard is from a town not far from the work on Dauphin Island’s west end, as are many others in his outfit. He says that being on active duty in the place he calls home is something state guards hope for. Though they go wherever and whenever they are deployed, often overseas, working to protect home surf and turf is always a welcome assignment""

 

"A ballet at sea as mesmerising as any performance in a concert hall, and worthy of an audience in its own right."

 

 

Anderson Cooper, host of "Anderson Cooper: 360" on CNN, has been tracking BP’s obstruction of freedom of the press. Cooper is in his element when covering the Gulf coast. Having earned respect and credibility through coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Cooper has no problem with publicly challenging attempts by BP to keep journalists or reporters away from the damaged areas of the Gulf.

 

 

COOPER: "the Coast Guard today announced new rules keeping photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches — 65 feet.

Now, in order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans. You have to call up the guy. What this means is that oil-soaked birds on islands surrounded by boom, you can’t get close enough to take that picture.

Shots of oil on beaches with booms, stay 65 feet away. Pictures of oil-soaked booms uselessly laying in the water because they haven’t been collected like they should, you can’t get close enough to see that. And, believe me, that is out there.

But you only know that if you get close to it, and now you can’t without permission. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges.

What’s even more extraordinary is that the Coast Guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet, before scaling it back to 65 feet"

 

The order comes just days after the ACLU of Louisiana wrote the following letter urging an end to blocking of the press and censorship of information:

 

"We have learned from several sources that law enforcement officers have prevented members of the public from filming activities on the beaches affected by the BP oil spill. We have learned of the following incidents, among others: 

Several reporters have been told not to film at spill sites in Louisiana. Incidents include attempts to film on a beach in Grand Isle and near Venice. Reporters are told that they are not allowed to record because BP doesn’t want filming there.

Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, off of Grand Isle, is blocked by Jefferson Parish deputies. Deputies told one reporter not to photograph them blocking the road.

At least one person was told by a Terrebonne Parish sheriff’s deputy working private security detail for BP that he wasn’t allowed to film the outside of the BP building in Houma from a private, non-BP-owned field across the street. The deputy admitted that the guy wasn’t breaking any laws but tried to intimidate him into stopping filming and leaving anyway.

We have reason to believe that deputies in other coastal parishes may also be working with BP to impede or prevent access to public lands and to interfere with members of the public and the media.

This letter is to notify you that members of the public have the right under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to film, record, photograph, and document anything they observe in a public place. No one — neither law enforcement nor a private corporation — has the legal right to interfere with public access to public places or the recording of activities that occur there. Nor may law enforcement officials cooperate with private companies in denying such access to the public.

 

Additionally, BP has "reporters" working for them, producing stories on the oil disaster that they contend are not being covered by media organizations.

 

The reporting consists primarily of puff-piece accounts of the damage, how awesome it is to be flying over the damage and looking down at the wetlands that the oil will likely spread into and further destroy. It consists of celebration of the tourism the Gulf coast has to offer and a profile of tourists who have not canceled their vacations. And, it glamorizes the service of the National Guard who have helped BP militarize the Gulf and turn areas into off-limit zones that members of the media are not allowed to venture into.

 

On July 2nd, Anderson Cooper covered BP’s employment of "reporters" to propagandize their clean-up effort:

"It turns out BP has dispatched two employees to the Gulf who call themselves, according to their blogs, BP reporters. But their reporting looks nothing like our reporting or the rest of the media’s reporting. It’s far more positive. (voice-over): Check out this blog by BP reporter Tom Seslar, the same guy who interviewed Vicki Chaisson. Here, he interviewed a family in the seafood business, who says — quote — "There is no reason to hate BP, and, "The oil spill was an accident," this from folks in the seafood business, which has been destroyed by the BP spill"

"…COOPER: The — I mean, for 70-some odd days now, I have been kind of, I guess, complaining or pointing out the lack of transparency that BP has, even though they had promised transparency.

It doesn’t seem like — I mean, that still seems a major issue that no one else seems to be as concerned about as we have talked about.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But they can’t be, because they have an obligation to their shareholders, just like they can’t be transparent about the flow.

We discussed this last night. When the guy says, well, we don’t — it’s irrelevant to us what the flow is, you have to pay probably, maybe $4,000 a barrel for the flow. And so they’re — you can’t — you can’t believe anything that they say, because they have an obligation to their shareholders…"

 

NOLA.com reported that Associated Press photographer Geoffrey Herbert thinks there is reason to be concerned about the restrictions:

"Often the general guise of ‘safety’ is used as a blanket excuse to limit the media’s access, and it’s been done before"It feels as though news reporting is being criminalized under thinly veiled excuses. The total effect of all these restrictions is harming the public’s right to know."

 

In the middle of June, Associated Press writer Tamara Lush wrote:

Journalists covering the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been yelled at, kicked off public beaches and islands and threatened with arrest in the nearly three weeks since the government promised improved media access.

Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government’s point person for the response, issued a May 31 directive to BP PLC and federal officials ensuring media access to key sites along the coast. BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles followed up with a letter to news organizations, saying the company "fully supports and defends all individuals’ rights to share their personal thoughts and experiences with journalists if they so choose."

Those efforts have done little to curtail the obstacles, harassment and intimidation tactics journalists are facing by federal officials and local police, as well as BP employees and contractors, while covering the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history.

 

Lush went on to further illuminate how Adm. Allen’s directive on May 31 was likely public posturing, purely an empty gesture to stem the outrage among journalists in attempting to cover the disaster:

_ On June 5, sheriff’s deputies in Grand Isle, La., threatened an AP photographer with arrest for criminal trespassing after he spoke to BP employees and took pictures of cleanup workers on a public beach.

_ On June 6, an AP reporter was in a boat near an island in Barataria Bay, off the Louisiana coast, when a man in another boat identifying himself as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee ordered the reporter to leave the area. When the reporter asked to see identification, the man refused, saying "My name doesn’t matter, you need to go."

_ According to a June 10 CNN video, one of the network’s news crews was told by a bird rescue worker that he signed a contract with BP stating that he would not talk to the media. The crew was also turned away by BP contractors working at a bird triage area _ despite having permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enter the facility.

_ On June 11 and 12, private security guards patrolling in the Grand Isle area attempted repeatedly to prevent a crew from New Orleans television station WDSU from walking on a public beach and speaking with cleanup workers.

_ On June 13, a charter helicopter pilot carrying an AP photographer was contacted by the Federal Aviation Administration, which told the pilot he had violated the temporary flight restriction by flying below 3,000 feet. Both the pilot and photographer contend the helicopter never flew below 3,000 feet. However, the federal government now says helicopters in the restricted area are allowed to fly as low as 1,500 feet.

 

The federal government has sided with BP and helped BP obstruct press freedom. Even if the coverage would not condemn BP as criminal, even when press is willing to go along and play by the rules BP has outlined for media, the federal government has refused to give credence to the concerns of members of the press.

 

Now, with Adm. Allen’s order, it appears the government will continue to protect BP. If it is protecting BP now, what will it do for BP later? Does such behavior warrant concerns about whether BP will actually pay one hundred percent for what it should as a result of the company’s negligence and risky deepwater drilling operation?

 

In Obama Administration-speak, how long before the mantra becomes , "We need to move forward instead of looking backward," and Americans find it impossible to hold BP accountable because attention is no longer being directed at BP and the Gulf? Certainly, it seems the Administration and BP would like Americans especially journalists to concede that there’s nothing to see here (or there) and, yes, they should move along.

 

People in areas nearby the damaged areas of the Gulf are depending on reports. In the same way that those impacted by Hurricane Katrina depended on reporters and journalists to cover what was really going on in the aftermath, fishermen, BP workers, residents who live on the coast, etc. are all depending on those who understand the value of reporting to society to stay firm, hold strong and not bow to the orders of BP or government officials to shy away from telling real stories of the people and areas most impacted in the Gulf.

Obama’s Oval Office Address: Is the Gulf Half-Empty or Half-Full?

12:32 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Nearly sixty days after an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed eleven workers, injured seventeen others and created an oil gusher that has been spewing black clouds of oil ever since, President Obama delivered an Oval Office address with the hope of stemming the flow of anger among Americans.

President Obama explained that this is "already the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced." Seemingly forgetting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he added, "Unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it is not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years."

The term continued to be "spill" despite the fact that it should now be accurately referred to as a "leak." It isn’t a spill; if a coffee cup falls over and coffee spills, it doesn’t continue to produce coffee for hours and hours after it spills. If a coffee cup could do that, there’d be no reason for people to buy over-priced cups of coffee from Starbucks.

And, actually, "leak" is too timid. This is not a "leak" or "spill." This is a "gusher." It’s a hemorrhage. The planet is hemorrhaging and those at the top who are running the cleanup effort have no idea how to make the planet clot so the hemorrhaging will stop.

President Obama essentially broke the address up into three parts: the cleanup effort, the recovery and restoration of the Coast, and steps being taken to make sure another disaster like this never happens again.

Outlined by President Obama was the fact that "millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming, and other collection methods" and that "over five and a half million feet of boom has been laid across the water to block and absorb the approaching oil. " Obama also explained that the federal government has "approved the construction of new barrier islands in Louisiana to try and stop the oil before it reaches the shore" and is also "working with Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida to implement creative approaches to their unique coastlines."

President Obama claimed, "if something isn’t working, we want to hear about it" and "if there are problems in the operation, we will fix them." There was no mention of the fact that fancy paper towels are being used in the cleanup effort–that cleanup technology seems to be very simple and inadequate. (Perhaps, if relief wells fail, BP and all those involved in the cleanup efforts will try to shove a ginormous tampon into the floor of the ocean to stop the flow.)

There was also no mention of the Corexit dispersant being used, which Pro Publica reports has been removed from a list of products approved for use on oil spills in the U.K and is "more toxic and less effective on south Louisiana crude than other EPA-approved dispersants."

Obama’s talk of focusing on recovery and restoration becomes even more hollow when you consider further information on the use of Corexit to disperse the oil:

What’s more, the EPA and the Coast Guard are allowing BP to use these dispersants underwater near the ruptured well. They’ve called it a "novel approach [31]" that will ultimately use less dispersant than if the chemicals were applied on the surface. The undersea application, however, is not the recommended [32] application [33] procedure laid out in the EPA’s information on Corexit.

The EPA has acknowledged that dispersants entail "an environmental trade-off [34]," and that their long-term effects on the environment are unknown. It has promised to continue monitoring their use, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is working with BP [35] to get less toxic dispersants to the site as soon as possible.

On behalf of the fisherman whose way of living have been completely under attack as a result of this disaster, Obama said, "Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."

However, this meeting is only scheduled to last 20 minutes. That is hardly enough time to properly address the situation and use the bully pulpit of the presidency to force BP to spend less time trying to save their image and more time trying to save the ecosystem in the Gulf.

If President Obama’s only going to spend 20 minutes, then he should just call Tony Hayward and "ask" him his question about a third-party account and the cleanup. He should just friend BP on YouTube and then engage in a chat in the comments thread of one of BP’s videos that, as Jon Stewart said last week, treats Americans like they are victims of domestic abuse.

Also, as Chris Matthews pointed out just after the address, no specifics were laid out on how this account to be "administered by an independent, third party" will be organized and properly handled:

"…[Obama] never mentioned what power he has as chief executive of this country to make [BP] understand they need to put this escrow account in third party hands. Is he gonna litigate? Is he gonna file an amicus brief with a class action suit, wait seven years for this to happen or is he really gonna demand it happens? He said, "I can ask them to do this." I’m amazed he just says he has that power…"

That President Obama thinks the American people will believe he has this situation under control when he intends to still ask BP and not make demands of them is confounding. The government should be past asking. It should be discussing accountability and consequences for the massive cover-up that has taken place in the Gulf, which has contributed to an increase in the devastation in the Gulf.

But, there was no mention of jail time for those responsible and no mention either of a more feasible option, debarment, a move that could "bar BP from receiving government contracts" and "cost the company billions and end its drilling in federally controlled oil fields."

President Obama casually explained that he was assured everything would be fine, that limited offshore drilling "would be absolutely safe" and "the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken." Who or what agency told him this and why does it seem that what they had to say was taken at face value? Given the reservations environmentalists, scientists, and engineers have had about drilling, why doesn’t it seem those people were talking to the president when he made a decision to open up limited offshore drilling?

Shakeups at Mineral Management Services (MMS) were detailed as if to show that regulatory agencies will now handle and regulate corporations like BP properly. But, given the way the EPA has handled the Corexit dispersant and the reports that the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) may not be properly updating their standards on the levels of chemical exposure that cleanup workers are allowed to be exposed to, should we really believe oversight is going to hold oil corporations accountable from this point on?

If one considers Jason Leopold’s recent investigative report on BP’s Alaska oilfield and its safety, one must question how BP is conducting operations all over this country. One must also ask if other oil companies are getting away with safety issues as well.

No portion of the speech addressed the reality that BP is stemming the flow of information in the Gulf and the reality that "journalists in the gulf are now dealing with a hybrid informational apparatus that does not reflect government’s legally mandated bias toward openness and transparency."

If President Obama really wanted to address the way the disaster is being handled, he would have asked why BP has been permitted to invest and expend valuable time, money and resources on public relations and use the National Guard to help protect the corporation’s image and increasingly bleak future instead of putting a hundred percent of BP’s available manpower, equipment, and assets into cleanup operations. If he really wanted to give an address that was not simply void of specifics and instead filled with platitudes and great speechifying, President Obama would have said his administration will condemn any further attempts by BP to block scientists’ access to information and take up air time disinforming and misinforming the public on the extent of the damage in the Gulf.

Keith Olbermann characterized the situation correctly, "We needed to hear the president articulating the anger of this nation at this fiasco, at this ongoing and unstoppable fiasco in the Gulf."

Something needed to be given to lift Americans’ spirits, to make Americans believe that this could be the critical juncture where American government not only makes the transition to pushing for a clean, renewable energy future in this country but also a future where corporations are not just simply allowed to reign supreme and go unchecked.

In the end, all Obama could give Americans was a prayer, a short anecdote about shrimpers who are joined by community during shrimping season for a "Blessing of the Fleet" that involves clergy from many different religions praying for the safety and success of the men and women who will be going out to sea.

Obama’s message at the end of his speech was not only will God "remove all obstacles and dangers" but He will "be with us always" and "even in the midst of the storm."

If this was what we Americans are to hang our hopes on, we can reasonably expect that this disaster will continue until way past Christmas. We can count on BP to still be trying to halt the flow of oil when boys and girls are looking forward to Santa Clause coming to town.

This disaster is not in need of a clergyman or a preacher. It’s not in need of a benevolent, kind and understanding man. It’s not in need of a collegiate and professorial person or someone who was quite the corporate candidate for president in 2008.

This disaster needs a champion of people sovereignty over corporate sovereignty. And, when Obama becomes that champion —someone closer to the trust-busting President Teddy Roosevelt than President Grover Cleveland, who was president when the Supreme Court granted personhood to corporations.

World Oceans Day: Soon to Be World Dead Zones Day?

9:41 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service

The Ocean Project, which consists of over one thousand aquariums, zoos, museums and conservation organizations, has designated June 8th “World Oceans Day.” This day, which earned official recognition from the United Nations General Assembly as the result of a resolution passed in December 2008, is a new celebrated day, and, as oil continues to gush at perhaps 100,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico (which connects to the Atlantic Ocean), this day carries even more significance.

 

Ocean conservation is essential to the future of our planet. In fact, the UN recently reported on estimates from a report indicating the world could face fishless oceans in 40 years, a notion that should frighten all the people of the world into becoming stewards of the Earth.

 

The Ocean Project says people should celebrate World Oceans Day because the world’s oceans “generate most of the oxygen we breathe, help feed us, regulate our climate, clean the water we drink, offer us a pharmacopoeia of medicines, and provide limitless inspiration.

 

Those behind the day have the best of intentions when it comes to World Oceans Day. They would like people all over the world to change the perspective of others who do not understand what oceans have to offer, to discover how daily actions affect oceans and how we are all interconnected, to change our ways and act as caretakers for the ocean, and/or to participate in activities and celebrate the oceans of the world.

 

One would like to think the most obvious threat to oceans would be on the table for discussion: the continued practice of offshore oil drilling in deep and shallow areas of the ocean. The Gulf oil disaster caused by BP, Transocean and Halliburton should compel us to justify the risks being created, which contribute to further pollution of the world’s oceans.

 

Unfortunately, World’s Oceans Day is likely to be marked insincerely. The news is President Obama is going to re-open waters to shallow oil production. Before any investigative commission provides a report on moving forward after this disaster, the Obama Administration is bowing to the oil lobby and doing it on the World Oceans Day; one could liken this move to cutting aid to African countries stricken with AIDS on World AIDS Day.

 

President Obama appears to think repeating angry toothless rhetoric about BP’s CEO Tony Hayward over and over again–rhetoric which creates the perception that he does not like that Hayward continues to control BP and how cleanup efforts continue in the Gulf–will get America through this crisis that may last until Christmas and be enough to convince Americans major changes to the regulation of oil companies are going to be made. It seems President Obama is doing this for show and not because this is all the federal government can do.

 

The Pew Oceans Commission understands that the oceans are in crisis. They find the BP oil disaster intersects with campaigns to secure protections for bluefin tuna, end overfishing in the Southeast, protect life in the Arctic, conserve sharks, address global warming and develop a clean energy policy. It also brings to the forefront the need for a national ocean policy.

 

The Commission describes why a national ocean policy is necessary:

 

 

The increasing industrialization of our oceans threatens the fragile health of marine ecosystems.  If poorly planned or managed, drilling for oil and natural gas in federal waters, developing aquaculture and building wind, wave and tidal energy facilities all have the potential to damage America’s marine environment. Currently, several federal agencies manage industrial activities in our oceans under a number of statutes, and there is little coordination or consideration of the cumulative impacts their decisions have on the health and productivity of marine ecosystems and coastal communities.

 

Among its cardinal recommendations, the Pew Oceans Commission called for establishing an enforceable national policy to protect, maintain and restore the health of marine ecosystems.  This will not only support economically and culturally valuable fisheries, but also provide countless recreational opportunities for the public and protect critically important ecological services, such as air and water purification.  The commission also recommended changing the organizational structure and laws governing our oceans to make their protection and productivity a priority, and it urged better coordination and management of the full spectrum of activities affecting marine resources.  Finally, it proposed establishing a permanent source of funding for ocean and coastal conservation and management. [emphasis added]

 

Not only do Americans need to recognize the folly of expanding oil drilling in American oceans without a clear policy to protect the oceans and properly regulate oil rigs, but Americans need to recognize the threat global warming poses to the oceans (and face up to the reality that increased oil production contributes to global warming).

 

Sadly, there has been a decrease in the number of Americans who find global warming to be a concern. Media coverage and political discussion of “climate change” (the political re-branding of global warming) has led people to doubt the science behind global warming despite the fact that there is very, very little debate (if any) among scientists on whether global warming is taking place or not.

 

Sixty-seven percent responded in a Gallup poll in March of this year that they do not think global warming will pose a serious threat to them or their way of life in their lifetime while thirty-two percent said yes it would pose a threat and affect them at some point in their lifetime. The poll also found that more and more Americans think natural causes are responsible for the change in the Earth’s temperature, not human activity.

 

Oil and energy lobbyists whose utmost concerns are profit and short-term gains have conspired against science and worked tirelessly to sow doubt in the minds of Americans through public relations campaigns, “astroturf” citizens’ groups, and fake research studies that skew data to favor their free market agenda. The American Enterprise Institute, which receives a substantial amount of money from ExxonMobil, planned “Energy Citizen Rallies” in 2009 to attack “climate change” legislation in Congress.

 

People like Art Robinson, who is running for Congress on the GOP ticket, also increase the likelihood that the planet’s oceans will become total dead zones. Robinson claimed in an issue of a newsletter he edited in 2004 called Access to Energy:

 

“Wastes dumped into the deep ocean will soon reach the bottom, where they are less hazardous than nearly any other place on Earth. Most materials will remain there: marine organisms are rare in the deep ocean, food chains are long, and few materials will be carried back to mankind. And that is what waste disposal is all about…”

 

“…The oil companies’ reckless greed, we are told, has devastated the oceans with their oil spills. Baloney…”

 

“…As for oil spills in the open and deep ocean, they amount to far less than natural seeps and river runoff, and any unbiased oceanographer will confirm that they are a boon to marine life, inflicting damage mainly on the oil and shipping companies. For crude oil is a natural, organic, biodegradable product of the earth’s ancient plant and animal life, and it is this type of hydrocarbon that marine life in the open and deep ocean is starved for…”

 

“…The environment, then, has no better protector than its owner, and no worse enemy than a system where everything belongs to “the people.” Species are endangered when they belong to everybody and nobody; and nothing short of the profit motive will protect them.”

 

If the future of the world’s oceans are not endangered by arrogant numbskulls preaching the Gospel of the Free Markets like Robinson, then they are significantly at risk by people like Dick Armey who preach the Gospel of Christian Fanaticism (and manufacture Tea Party rallies through ventures like FreedomWorks).

 

Appearing as a witness at a Republican bicameral hearing on climate change legislation on Capitol Hill in July of 2009, Armey testified:

 

DICK ARMEY: What I’m suggesting is we have a sort of an eco-evangelical hysteria going on and it leads me to almost wonder if we are becoming a nation of environmental hypochondriacs that are willing to use the power of the state to impose enormous restrictions on the rights and the comforts of, and incomes of individuals who serve essentially a paranoia, a phobia, that has very little fact evidence in fact. Now these are observations that are popular to make because right now its almost taken as an article of faith that this crisis is real. Let me say I take it as an article of faith if the lord God almighty made the heavens and the Earth, and he made them to his satisfaction and it is quite pretentious of we little weaklings here on earth to think that, that we are going to destroy God’s creation. [...]

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Mr. Armey it’s great to have you here. Great to see you again and we appreciate all you’ve done throughout the years and your work on Capitol Hill. Great job. [emphasis added by Think Progress]

 

What’s worse? Armey’s comments or the fact that this country has senators like Orrin Hatch who praise people for making pathologically insane comments like these in hearings that should be based in science?

 

The goals of World Oceans Day are paramount. However, this country doesn’t understand the value of the environment. Many may suggest that humans have a duty to protect and preserve the environment but far too many think God or the Almighty Dollar will save the environment and are blind to the reality that Mother Nature is under siege from fanaticism and free market desires.

 

One can hope more Americans will find the moral fortitude and courage to take on those that spread disinformation to pollute science, which demonstrates global warming is a threat to our oceans. One can hope more Americans will directly call out this country’s inability to have a future focus, which forgets short-term profit and favors the long-term protection of the environment for future generations of Americans.

 

Unfortunately, anger and frustration seem to be better responses than hope. Hope often makes people passive. As it becomes obvious the world’s oceans need the help of thousands if not millions of citizens now more than ever, the oceans need physical and meaningful action, not hope.

Nuclear Power Has a Friend in Heads of Obama’s Oil Gusher Commission

3:48 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by Kevin Gosztola |Former Sen. Bob Graham & former head of the EPA William K. Reilly were appointed by Obama to head a commission and investigate the BP oil disaster.

 

 

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, May 22nd, President Obama selected the two men that will be leading an independent commission that will examine the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, find the "root causes" of the disaster, and produce a report in six months. Those men were former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) and former head of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under George H.W. Bush, William K. Reilly, a Republican.

 

President Obama said in his address, "If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn’t enforce those laws — I want to know it…I want to know what worked and what didn’t work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down."

 

BP has been hiding reports and video on the disaster, low balling estimates on the amount of oil that has leaked into the Gulf, and ignoring orders or requests issued by federal agencies dictating recommendations and guidelines for the cleanup. The government has allowed BP to continue to handle this disaster in this manner, which might lead one to believe this commission might simply be one where oil & gas companies involved in offshore drilling (especially BP) could use the disaster to re-brand their company’s image, regain the confidence of politicians, up their contributions to key political leaders, and continue to obstruct movement toward clean, renewable energy in America. With Graham and Reilly on the commission, it’s far more likely that this commission will advance a much different agenda—a nuclear energy agenda.

  

Both Graham and Reilly have records that show each possesses some level of interest in confronting environmental issues. Graham developed a reputation for being outspoken against offshore drilling in the early 1990s. Reilly was a leader of the World Wildlife Fund and has the distinction of being the first head of the EPA to actually "come from a job in the environmental community."

 

In addition to being involved in policymaking related to oil energy and offshore drilling, both Graham and Reilly have supported the nuclear industry financially and politically.

 

Obama said of the two in his address, "I can’t think of two people who will bring greater experience or better judgment to the task at hand…In the days to come, I’ll appoint 5 other distinguished Americans including scientists, engineers, and environmental advocates to join them on the commission."

 

Those who would like to see individuals without business ties to an industry that could benefit from this commission might be able to think of two better people.

 

Fmr. Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) Opposed to Offshore Drilling,Very Much for Nuclear Energy

 

Upon becoming the chairman of the Senate Nuclear Regulation Subcommittee in August 1990, Graham began to give speeches suggesting "nuclear energy should play a "significant role" in meeting America’s long-term energy needs." (St. Petersburg Times – Tuesday, February 12, 1991) 

 

In a speech given in February 1991, Graham remarked to the American Nuclear Energy Council, a Washington-based trade group, "There are no black-and-white courses in a national energy policy…Every option has both assets and liabilities." He acknowledged that nuclear energy had cost and environmental drawbacks but also said that it could be a key way to solve the country’s energy problems.

 

Graham recommended plant licensing procedures be streamlined to make it "no more difficult to permit a nuclear plant than it is [to permit] an electric plant."

 

Graham suggested dealing with the question of how to dispose nuclear waste was just as significant as figuring out a way to handle the environmental and health issues that carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide from fossil fuels presented Americans and he cited the war in the Persian Gulf as even more reason to pursue nuclear energy.

 

In November 1990, Graham said on CNBC that America was "too reliant on petroleum as our source of energy" and he noted while 75 percent of all energy in France is nuclear, only 15 percent of U.S. energy is nuclear. He also added that Florida’s energy consumption was 20 percent nuclear, which was above the national average. (The Tampa Tribune – Monday, November 19, 1990)

 

The same month he visited a nuclear power plant owned by Florida Power & Light Co. and argued that rising oil cost and clean air legislation would make nuclear energy more important, practical by 2010. He claimed nuclear power was no longer a source of "environmental anxiety" and had become an "environmental asset" because it does not dirty the air like coal does. (The Palm Beach Post – Friday, November 2, 1990)

 

In the midst of all the posturing in favor of nuclear energy, Graham made it plain that he could not unequivocally support the interests of oil and gas companies. When President Bush was considering requests to drill for oil and gas off the coast of Florida, Graham opposed the requests cited an audit that found the federal government had "done a poor job of enforcing regulations at onshore oil and gas wells." He noted that the environment had been damaged as a result and taxpayers would probably have to pay "millions of dollars to clean up abandoned wells" as a result. (St. Petersburg Times – Wednesday, December 27, 1989)

 

Earlier in June, a study had found that "the Interior Department had not levied a single civil penalty in six years, despite finding 16,000 violations in that period of time." Graham presumably understood what could happen to Florida if oil and gas companies were able to open shop in certain protected areas and he suggested that if offshore drilling moved forward Florida’s coast could be impacted like areas in the western United States.

 

He continued to defend areas of Florida from oil interests by spearheading an effort to "kill a little-noticed amendment" to the National Security Energy Act of 1990 that would "reverse President George H.W. Bush’s moratorium on oil drilling off the Florida Keys." (The Orlando Sentinel Saturday Sept. 29, 1990). He signed on to a statement declaring that he and twenty-six other senators were unable to support "oil and gas leasing in wilderness and other environmentally sensitive areas now protected from intrusion, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Florida Keys, and the National Marine Sanctuaries." This statement was made as oil prices rose and conflict in the Gulf between Iraq and Kuwait (that the U.S. became heavily involved in) increased.

 

Graham was even one of the senators very much opposed to the Cheney energy bill. He and Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote an editorial published by the Sun-SentinelonJuly6,2003,saying the "basic philosophy behind this bill is to ignore alternative energy issues and drain the nation first — to make it easier and less expensive to extract oil and gas from publicly owned lands, regardless of environmental costs." The editorial also stated:

 

…It includes a provision that would open the door to offshore oil drilling by requiring a survey of the oil and gas resources under the outer continental shelf. The language in the bill is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to disparage — and even undermine — long-standing, bipartisan moratoriums that protect our coastline from offshore drilling.

It is important to put the drilling issue into historical perspective. On Jan. 29, 1969, a Union Oil Co. platform experienced a blowout off the coast of Santa Barbara. Over 11 days, about 200,000 gallons of crude oil spread into an 800-square-mile slick that coated 35 miles of beachfront. Thousands of oil-soaked birds — along with dolphins and seals and other mammals — washed up dead on the shore.

A total of $17.3 million in damages was paid to local residents and boat owners, as well as the state of California, Santa Barbara County and the cities of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

This tragedy convinced Californians that they were not willing to assume the risks associated with offshore drilling.

 

Inarguably, Graham has a record that many environmentalists have found praiseworthy. But, when his opposition to oil drilling is considered in the context of his support for nuclear energy, one must ask if Graham is simply a nuclear energy salesman who knows how to play the game.

 

 In 2003, Broward-Palm Beach New Times looked at who "really had a friend in Bob Graham." They published information on energy and oil markets that Graham had investments in. In 2001, Graham began to shift from investments in Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and health care firms and put $34,000 to $145,000 in seven energy and oil companies, three with nuclear energy interests. (He invested in Vice President Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton, which may present a conflict of interest since the BP oil disaster can be linked to Halliburton).

 

The New Times pointed out "Graham served on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee where he crafted and voted on legislation that directly affected the companies on which he was betting." They cite a front-page report published by the Washington Times on March 18, 2001, "Energy needs spur rebirth of nuclear power," where Graham was quoted as saying, "Nuclear power is not a magic bullet, but it should also not be a poison pill."

 

Graham also added, "The technology exists to make nuclear power–already one of our cleanest energy sources–also one of our safest, most reliable, and least expensive." 

 

The New Times reported that Graham co-sponsored the Nuclear Energy Electricity Assurance Act, "an industry-backed bill designed to encourage expansion of nuclear power after 20 years of stasis." The contents of the measure included "large incentives and subsidies to nuclear companies like Exelon," a Chicago-based company and one of the top nuclear energy producers in the nation which had just developed technology in South Africa that the company was hoping to utilize in the United States.

 

Graham’s PAC contributions from nuclear companies were also detailed:

"The stock buys weren’t the senator’s only financial connection with nuclear power players. From 1998 to 2002, he received $46,287 in PAC contributions from nuclear companies. During his 1998 campaign, when he really needed the money, Graham ranked sixth in the Senate in contributions from nuclear industry PACs, raking in $28,787 during that year’s election cycle, according to the Washington, D.C.-based consumer lobby group Public Citizen.

The single largest nuclear industry contributor to Graham’s campaign was Exelon, which has provided him with $19,000 since 1998. Exelon, in fact, is a particularly generous donor, giving a total of $588,044 to members of Congress in 2002 alone. That makes it the kindest nuclear company to politicians, according to a Public Citizen report issued this past May 20 titled "Hot Waste, Cold Cash." Duke was ranked seventh, with $376,000, and TXU was sixth, with $394,828." click here 

 

Former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly: A Chum for Nuclear Energy

 

In Reilly’s career, he has demonstrated significant support for nuclear energy while also talking tough on environmental issues. Reilly’s experience writing up a report on the Exxon Valdez oil spill certainly makes him seem like the right person to ask questions of BP and offer recommendations on how to move forward and best address the disaster in the Gulf. But, Reilly is currently the co-chair for the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP), a project of the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

 

The Commission was, according to Chemical News & Intelligence, "founded in 2002 and financed by five major US charitable funds." It "drew on expertise from a diverse group of energy issue stakeholders, many of whom, Reilly said, ‘otherwise might never have found themselves in the same room.’"

 

One of those energy issue stakeholders that the Commission brought Reilly in contact with is also a chairman of the Commission and CEO of the Exelon Corporation, John W. Rowe. 

 

In 2004, the Commission released a report that called for the expansion of energy technologies to keep up with requirements for "substantially increased quantities" of energy over the next twenty years and address the challenges that "climate change" presented the energy stakeholders and those with the power to create and influence energy policy.

 

One of the technologies the Commission recommended be expanded was nuclear power. It urged the U.S. to fulfill existing federal commitments on nuclear waste management, provide $2 billion over ten years from federal research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RD&D) budgets for the demonstration of one to two new advanced nuclear power plants, and significantly strengthening the international non-proliferation regime.

 

Moreover, the report called for "government intervention" that would address key issues and "improve prospects for an expanded, rather than diminished, role for nuclear energy." It further claimed that this expanded role was warranted by "several policy objectives" including the needs to reduce greenhouse gases, enhance energy security, and alleviate pressure on natural gas supplies in the electric-generation sector.

 

He became the leader of the Sustainable Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) in 2008. The board was formed by Energy Future Holdings (EFH) to represent the environment, customers, Texas economic development and reliability/technology interests.

  

Prior to October 2009, EFH was formerly known as TXU Corporation, an energy company. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., the Texas Pacific Group (TPG Capital), Goldman Sachs acquired EFH and EFH made a "range of commitments aimed at providing a more affordable, more reliable, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable supply of energy to the citizens of Texas."

 

Energy Future Holdings describes itself as "a Dallas-based energy holding company with a portfolio of competitive and regulated energy subsidiaries, primarily in Texas, including TXU Energy, Luminant and Oncor." Reilly happens to have connections to all of these companies.

 

Additionally, EFH’s PAC, the Power Political Action Committee of Energy Future Holdings Corporation, contributed $10,000 to Blue Dog PAC, $5,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Nuclear Energy Institute in the 2010 cycle (so far). EFH definitely intends to shape the political agenda so that nuclear power is included.

 

Reilly was at the center of this deal especially because he is a senior advisor to TPG Capital, a leading private investment firm with $48 billion across a family of funds."

 

The deal was used by Reilly to get TXU to, according to the New York Times, "commit to [scaling] back significantly on [plans] to build 11 new coal plants and adhere to a strict code of conduct." The move demonstrated that Reilly was willing to make moves to get industry off carbon. And, it also showed that companies like TXU, a company that operates nuclear power plants, could be convinced to give up carbon if they were pomised the opportunity to expand their nuclear energy assets.

 

Reilly did not have a record of being pro-nuclear energy before becoming EPA Administrator under President George H.W. Bush, but in March 1989, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Reilly was involved in the production of an EPA report that said if one wanted to help slow the warming of the atmosphere, one needed to drive a small care that was able to get 40 miles per gallon, pay a higher tax on coal and oil, plant lots of new trees and, finally, give up opposition to new nuclear power plants.

 

The EPA under Reilly specifically called for "the construction of 600 more 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plants around the world."

 

And, since then, Reilly has disappointed many conservationists by championing nuclear energy as a clean energy that can address many problems of the future.

 

Obama Administration’s Ties to Nuclear?

 

The selection of Graham and Reilly would be just another anomaly if it weren’t for all the clear ties the Obama Administration has to the nuclear energy industry.

 

On January 24th, 2010, Judy Pasternak published an investigative news story on nuclear energy’s lobbying push. Pasternak reported, "The Obama administration may soon guarantee as much as $18.5 billion in loans to build new nuclear reactors to generate electricity, and Congress is considering whether to add billions more to support an expansion of nuclear power."

 

Pasternak detailed, specifically, nuclear power’s ties to the Obama Administration and wrote, "The industry is plugged in on its own at the White House through labor groups and Exelon. Exelon CEO John W. Rowe is NEI’s past chairman and a current director." 

 

Pasternak added: 

 

"The company, based in the president’s home state of Illinois, has funded Obama campaigns since his Senate run, when employees contributed more than $48,000, according to CQ Moneyline, and Exelon’s political action committee gave the maximum of $10,000. Exelon employees gave Obama nearly $210,000 for his presidential campaign, according to CQ Moneyline.

Exelon’s management includes two Obama bundlers who are friends of the president. One, director John W. Rogers, helped direct Obama’s Illinois fundraising during his presidential race and helped plan the inauguration. The other, Frank M. Clark, has lobbied on nuclear issues for the company.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is close to Exelon, too. The merger that created the utility was the biggest deal of Emanuel’s brief but lucrative investment-banking career. Another White House connection is strategist David Axelrod, whom Exelon subsidiary ComEd once hired to create a fake grass-roots organization supporting higher electricity rates."

 

Exelon’s Rowe, who co-chairs an energy commission with Reilly, knew that this moment in history would come — the moment when a price on carbon would be instituted to curb global warming; he just didn’t know when. Rowe told Forbes in a report called "Exelon’s Carbon Advantage, "I thought climate legislation would come sooner or later and that I’d rather have my money in the nuke fleet."

 

Rowe is probably right if he has anything to do with it because the same report by Forbes says Rowe has been lobbying for climate legislation that would put a price on carbon. And, according to Public Citizen’s Tyler Slocum, it looks like Rowe’s and other members of the nuclear lobby’s efforts have paid off.

 

Public Citizen reports the current climate legislation is a "nuclear energy-promoting, oil drilling-championing, coal mining-boosting" piece of legislation "with a weak carbon pricing mechanism thrown in." The public interest groups warns against the nuclear power incentives currently in the climate change bill:

At its core, this legislation is all about promoting nuclear power and handing taxpayers the bill. Consider:

- Sections 1101 and 1105 would prioritize the needs of nuclear power corporations over the rights of citizens to have full, public hearings about the risks and dangers of locating nuclear power plants in their communities.

- Section 1102 increases loan guarantees primarily for nuclear power to a jaw-dropping $54 billion. These loans are a terrible deal for the taxpayer, especially considering the high risk of default that even the government acknowledges.

- Section 1103 provides $6 billion in taxpayer-subsidized risk insurance for 12 new nuclear reactors.

- Section 1121 allows nuclear power plant owners to write off their depreciation much faster. Section 1121 provides a 10 percent investment tax credit for new reactors.

- Section 1123 extends the Advanced Energy Project credit to nuclear reactors.

- Section 1124-6 allows municipal power agencies to derive certain tax, bond and grant benefits from investing in nuclear power.

 

If nuclear energy interests have been able to influence the climate change bill in Congress this much, there’s little reason to not believe that nuclear energy lobbyists and others related could influence the commission to investigate the oil leak in the Gulf. In fact, it’s even possible nuclear energy interests played akey role in Obama’s decision to appoint both Graham and Reilly.

  

Conclusion

 

There may exist the potential for former Sen. Bob Graham and former head of the EPA William Reilly to uncover all that BP has been hiding from the public and government and why it has taken BP so long to stop the oil from further gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. There is the potential for it to provide great insight into the impacts of offshore drilling and whether America should have a future where offshore drilling is part of a national energy strategy. Given Reilly’s experience writing a report on the Exxon Valdez spill, his knowledge of what worked and didn’t work then should be an asset when investigating and putting together a report on the recent BP oil disaster in the Gulf.

 

However, as demonstrated in this article, both Graham and Reilly have strong ties to nuclear energy interests. They are spearheading a so-called independent commission that has the capacity to determine the future of not only oil and gas in this country but clean energy in this country.

  

During the weekend, Graham publicly assured BP and Big Oil that they would get a fair hearing.Because of BP’s and Big Oil;s influence on political leaders in Washington, the Commission is unlikely to suggest that America pursue an energy future free of oil and gas; the Commission will probably not ban offshore drilling permanently. However, what the Commission will likely do is suggest recommendations on how the U.S. can become less and less dependable on carbon energy sources, which contribute to climate change. And, if they do that, they will open a big window for the expansion of the nuclear energy industry in America.