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NYT Sanger Worries Obama Makes Criminally Negligent Corporations Feel Unwelcome

8:38 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

In an "analysis" piece by the New York Times’ David Sanger, we learn the astonishing fact that Barack Obama is in danger of being perceived (by him) as overly hostile to large corporations who wreck the economy, the nation’s health or its Gulf Coast.

But it’s not just the BP escrow matter. Sanger essentially makes up a story that Obama is in danger of becoming the slayer of corporations. On which planet? It makes you wonder how Wall Street, health insurers and PhRMA survived the onslaught.

Sanger then gives credence to cynical Republican talking points about how the Administration is inherently anti-business and favors government takeovers of the economy. The truth is, no Democratic administration has worked as hard to capture corporate America’s campaign funding while shielding it from populist pitchforks. Larry Summers told us huge TBTF banks are essential to economic stability, for heaven’s sake.

Then Sanger lets Rahm Emanuel spin him into incoherence on who Obama is. But Sanger can’t hide his worrying about Obama’s threat to a vulnerable corporate America. Just read these closing paragraphs:

It is in the “master” role [referring to FDR's desire to be the "master" overcoming corporate misbehavior], however, that Mr. Obama and his advisers know he is on dangerous ground. He has responded to his critics by making the case that every time American business predicted ruin from government intervention — that “Social Security would lead to socialism, and that Medicare was a government takeover” — American capitalism survived.

It did. But just as Mr. Obama’s fortunes last year depended on a G.M. turnaround, his fortunes this year depend on demonstrating that the health care legislation that he pushed through both reduces costs for the consumers and saves taxpayers money.

And his fortunes over the next two years depend, in part, on showing that he can both turn off the spigot of oil in the gulf and turn on the spigot of aid — out of the coffers of BP’s shareholders.

Earth to David Sanger. The MOTU aren’t the slightest bit concerned about Obama becoming their "master." The clear-eyed rational ones know he bailed them out and saved their bonuses, while his economic team has been working hard to keep financial reform from changing Wall Street’s basic structure, cutting it down to size or limiting its trading activities too much. He’s not imposing more Social Security and Medicare on anyone; his Deficit Commission is instead working to cut benefits in the name of deficit hysteria. Obama didn’t threaten the health insurance industry or the drug makers; he created a mandatory market for their products that will flow trillions through their coffers.

And there isn’t a word in the President’s energy proposals that poses the slightest threat to Big Oil/Gas, Big Coal, or the nuclear industry. Most would get billions in subsidies to extend their dominance in what is euphemistically called "the transition."

Given this actual record, Sanger’s final admonition to Obama is astonishing:

Along the way, he will have to avoid painting with such a broad brush that foreign and domestic investors come to view the United States as a too risky place to do business, a country where big mistakes can lead to vilification and, perhaps, bankruptcy.

So according to the New York Times’ David Sanger, Americans should worry when corporations are vilified and have to suspend dividends when they behave in a criminally negligent manner, repeatedly kill employees, destroy the environment and put whole communities out of work. Sanger thinks Obama should worry they might decide not to do business in America if we object.

Uh, no. We want them to pay up, shape up, or go to jail; if not, then leave. Americans should instead worry that corporations who behave that badly are allowed to do business here and escape responsibility. And that’s true no matter who’s President.

John Chandley

Our President Thinks God Is On Our Side, But the Lobbyists are Opposed

7:51 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy, Government by Scarecrow

I don’t know how any sentient being could miss the obvious signs that if the gods care at all, they’re either testing us or not on our side. So its strange to hear the President of the United States tell an anguished, worried people facing destroyed livelihoods and desperate for leadership and a plan of action that prayer and faith are our best hope for stopping an ongoing catastrophe and preventing the next.

Let’s start from the end:

The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face. This nation has known hard times before and we will surely know them again. What sees us through – what has always seen us through – is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it. Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Does anyone believe this catastrophe continues because of a lack of faith in a better future, a shortage of American strength and resilience?

Why don’t we start by assuming the America people can understand basic physics. They intuitively grasp that we can’t keep punching holes into highly pressurized formations three miles beneath the ocean and not expect at least one of them to blow up with catastrophic consequences and then be the devil to stop. They understand that if corporations engage in inherently dangerous but highly profitable activities, they’ll inevitably cut safety corners, ignore risks and cause a disaster that kills people and causes massive damages. People get that.

And now they can see and touch and smell the nauseating reality that the destruction this causes can be beyond anything they’ve been told, anything they’re willing to accept. They know they’ve been lied to, and it hasn’t stopped. So it would be helpful if the President stopped it.

In the understatement of the decade, the CEO of Exxon-Mobile told Congress today that "when these things happen, we are not well equipped to deal with them. . . . There will be damages occur."

So any statement a President or any leader would put before a public whose intelligence and judgment they respected would have at least these two parts:

(1) Here’s the plan for fixing the immediate crisis, and here are the risks it might not work and what we’ll do about that.

(2) And here’s my challenge for the future: "We don’t have to take this. But if we want something different, we have some very hard work to do, and we need to get on with it. Here is what we must do, and here are the people and the failed ideas that stand in our way. We have to fight them if we want a different future. And that’s what I propose to do; here’s my plan, and I want your support."

I don’t know why our President can’t say it that simply, but apparently it’s not his style, or not what he wants or believes, or maybe he and his advisers just don’t know what to say or do. But someone needs to tell him, and now, that calling the nation to faith and prayer is not a substitute for a plan and it’s not leadership. It’s a sop.

The President’s Address to the Nation on the BP Oil Spill (transcript)

The President opened by reminding us we’re fighting three wars: an economic one against the deepest recession in 75 years; a military one against those we classify as terrorists; and a technological one against our dependence of energy sources that are inherently dangerous to extract, use, or dispose of.

What he didn’t say is that we’re making little or no progress in any of them, and that his Administration has virtually given up on the first and struggling with what to do about the second. It is any wonder he was so timid about the third?

He correctly tells us a drilling blowout at these depths is "testing the limits of human technology," but he still assures us — based on what? — we’ll soon capture 90 percent of the escaping oil. Does anyone believe that? And what of the oil already out there? He promises only that "we’ll fight this with everything we’ve got, for as long as it takes," and then help the Gulf and its people recover.

He tells us that from the beginning "the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history." Residents of the Gulf know this is false. They know BP is still in charge, still allocating resources, and the locals are furious at BP’s arrogance, secrecy and inattentiveness.

He says they have thousands of people and boats at work; locals know BP controls most of them, just as it’s deployed zillions of booms, but badly deployed and attended to both. He’s "authorized" 17,000 National Guard; locals know many haven’t been deployed.

The President could have acknowledged these failings and the justified anger and explained how he’ll change that. He didn’t. Instead he told locals to call if there’s a problem. But locals have been calling — to BP’s call centers — with little effect.

It will be interesting to hear local reactions to this part of the speech. My guess is many will feel let down. They should.

More on the energy challenge tomorrow.

John Chandley

BP Says “NO” to EPA on Switching Dispersants: Who’s in Charge?

10:07 am in BP oil disaster, Energy by Scarecrow

We’re about to find out how this "BP is responsible for the spill and cleanup, but we’re responsible for oversight" concept works, because BP is apparently defying the Environmental Protection Agency’s order to find and use a different, less toxic and more effective dispersant.

From the continued excellent coverage by the Times Picayune:

BP has told the Environmental Protection Agency that it cannot find a safe, effective and available dispersant to use instead of Corexit, and will continue to use that chemical application to help break up the growing spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP was responding to an EPA directive Thursday that gave BP 24 hours to identify a less toxic alternative to Corexit — and 72 hours to start using it — or provide the Coast Guard and EPA with a "detailed description of the alternative dispersants investigated, and the reason they believe those products did not meet the required standards."

BP spokesman Scott Dean said Friday that BP had replied with a letter "that outlines our findings that none of the alternative products on the EPA’s National Contingency Plan Product Schedule list meets all three criteria specified in yesterday’s directive for availability, toxicity and effectiveness."

Dean noted that "Corexit is an EPA pre-approved, effective, low-toxicity dispersant that is readily available, and we continue to use it."

He did not directly address widely broadcast news reports that more than 100,000 gallons of an alternative dispersant chemical call Sea-Brat 4 was stockpiled near Houston and available for application.

As the article notes, there are reportedly quantities of alternative dispersants available in the region.

BP’s Dean statement suggests an attitude of open defiance. They’ve been ordered to stop using a dispersant and replace it, or explain why, but "we continue to use it." So who’s in charge here?

Either EPA needs to say, "we’ve examined the response and based on our own investigation we agree that alternatives meeting our criteria are not available and so authorize BP to continue using its dispersant" . . . or . . . EPA needs to say "we do not agree and BP shall immediately cease its use of the dispersant and comply with our order."

What EPA can’t say, or leave others to conclude, is "we continue to believe BP can and should be using an alternative, but we have to take their word and there’s nothing we can do about it."

The public is out of patience and they expect their government to be able to function in an emergency. It better be quick.

Update: Interesting comments from BP and EPA yesterday, reported by ABC:

Though Suttles said BP will continue to search for a better alternative, he said "right now we cannot identify another product that is available that’s better than [dispersant] Corexit."

EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy told ABC News today, "It’s not that Corexit is banned. It’s not that they have to stop using it because they’re using it right now. But it’s just that they need to switch over."

Oh. And there’s this:

Suttles said he had not seen any evidence of the toll the dispersant is taking on marine life, he admitted that using the chemicals involves "tradeoffs."

"I haven’t seen any evidence to show that," Suttles said today. "We’re doing extensive monitoring as is NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the EPA."

According to the NYT, NOAA has only four research ships to cover the Gulf, with another still returning from the Pacific, while all of the EPA’s monitoring is either near shorelines or for air contamination on shore, not effects on the deepwaters near the BP site. (see EPA website below).

Times Picayune, EPA demands BP use less toxic dispersant
Empytywheel, Congress gets results on Corexit, and see John Hall questions BP on greenwashing campaign
NYT/Greenwire, Less toxic dispersants lose out in BP oil spill cleanup
EPA website on dispersants and directives to BP
NYT, Scientists fault lack of studies over Gulf oil spill
Local media: Fisherman report illnesses from BP chemicals

NOAA Distances Itself from Scientists’ Claims of Underwater Gulf Oil Plumes

12:22 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy, Media by Scarecrow

I don’t know whether this is good or bad news. Last weekend, the New York Times quoted several ocean scientists collecting samples in the area of the BP oil disaster to the effect that there could be large plumes of oil at various depths below the Gulf surface.

Today, however, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a disclaimer, stating they had no confirmation and claiming "media reports" were "misleading." From the NOAA press release:

"Media reports related to the research work conducted aboard the R/V Pelican included information that was misleading, premature and, in some cases, inaccurate. Yesterday the independent scientists clarified three important points:

1. No definitive conclusions have been reached by this research team about the composition of the undersea layers they discovered. Characterization of these layers will require analysis of samples and calibration of key instruments. The hypothesis that the layers consist of oil remains to be verified.

2. While oxygen levels detected in the layers were somewhat below normal, they are not low enough to be a source of concern at this time.

3. Although their initial interest in searching for subsurface oil was motivated by consideration of subsurface use of dispersants, there is no information to connect use of dispersants to the subsurface layers they discovered.

NOAA thanks the Pelican scientists and crew for repurposing their previously scheduled mission to gather information about possible impacts of the BP oil spill. We eagerly await results from their analyses and share with them the goal of disseminating accurate information.

NOAA continues to work closely with EPA and the federal response team to monitor the presence of oil and the use of surface and sub-surface dispersants. As we have emphasized, dispersants are not a silver bullet. They are used to move us towards the lesser of two environmental outcomes. Until the flow of oil is stemmed, we must take every responsible action to reduce the impact of the oil.”

Well, great. We either have a group of irresponsible scientists who are the only ones reporting and possibly the only ones in the region doing onsite research on the possible composition of plumes near the well, or we have a very politically compromised NOAA trying to manage public concerns. Because if you read the Times story, the "media reports" being blamed here consisted of quotes from the scientists.

What the NOAA statement doesn’t tell us:

1. What, if any, direct collection of under/deep-water samples in the vicinity have been taken or are being taken? What do those samples, show? Who is doing this?

2. If NOAA is still waiting to see analysis of the scientists’ test samples, what is the basis for NOAA’s claims that levels of oxygen are not low enough to be a basis for concern?

3. What is the basis for the EPA/NOAA assumption that massive use of deepwater dispersants is an acceptable tradeoff against impacts from surface levels?

4. Is it true that the dispersants EPA permitted BP to use have been shown to have worse toxicity and less effectiveness than available alternative dispersants, and if so, why is the BP choice accepted under any rational environmental regime? Has BP’s corporate relationship with the chosen dispersant manufacturer played a role in allowing this choice?

5. What steps is NOAA or anyone else within US government taking to account for the huge discrepancies between the "official" estimates of the flow rates and the much larger rates estimated by several different, independent scientists? Is there a large quantity of oil "missing" and unaccounted for, or isn’t there? And what is the government doing to sort that out?

It may be that NOAA is one of the more trusted entities is this saga, and that all we have here is an effort to make sure the media does not get ahead of the known facts. Fine. But government oversight of a powerful industry has clearly failed because of pervasive industry capture, and that failure has embarrassed the Administration and undermined it’s announced pro-industry policies. "Trust us" doesn’t get it, and it never should.

Senate Committee Hearing on BP Oil Disaster

9:55 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

Watching the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the BP Oil Disaster it’s hard not to be discouraged by the spectacle. Even before the Committee gets too deep into questioning the executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton, the Senators’ questions of the setup panel inadvertently revealed they are as much a part of the problem as the companies they’re trying to nail with responsibility.

That became obvious during the initial panel composed of a Texas A&M Associate Professor and former drilling engineer, F.E. Beck, and Elmer Danenberger, who until January was the head of the Minerals Management Service responsible for overseeing off-shore oil drilling.

Beck was competent and helpful in describing industry practices. He discussed general drilling procedures and safeguards, but he disclaimed expertise in deepwater drilling, meaning the Committee had the right idea but the wrong witness.

Former MMS director Danenberger, on the other hand, came off as a perfect example of someone you’d never allow to be a regulator, as the questioning by Ron Wyden revealed.

Danenberger represents the view that if something awful hasn’t happened to you, you don’t need to think about the worst that could happen. So you don’t have to plan for it, let alone consider the possibility of catastrophic failure and its consequences when you’re deciding whether to allow the activity in the first place. That is, by the way, the essence of US energy policy, now fully embraced by the Obama Administration and most in Congress. Danenberger represents how our government thinks.

But the problems with government oversight of a dangerous industry with plenty of money and influence were best illustrated by the Senators themselves. With only a couple of possible exceptions (Sen. Bob Mendendez of NJ; Ron Wyden of Oregon), the Senators start with the conclusion that should be waiting for evidence to support it: that no matter how dangerous this activity is to the lives of workers or how devastating it may become to the environment and economy of the Gulf, we’re going to continue doing this, because we’re not prepared to do something different.

So we heard Mary Landrieu (D. La) use all of her time reading a statement about how much her state depends on oil industry jobs, how many wells we’ve drilled that didn’t blow up (as though somehow that mattered), and how much oil we get from the region. She told us none of the many spills to date had been this big, as though that was supposed to be reassuring. Not once did Sen. Landrieu tell us how may people in the Gulf region depend on the health of the Gulf or how many communities in her state and others could be decimated by this catastrophe.

Senator John Barrasso (R. Wyoming), not willing to ask whether the technologies we have for deepwater drilling may not be reliable enough to trust with the life of the Gulf, wanted to know instead whether terrorists might have had an opportunity to sabotage the blowout preventer? The witnesses essentially dismissed the notion, dealing a blow to Russ Limbaugh; the equipment failed, so now Barrasso has to deal with it.

But the prize for stooge of the morning must go to Senator Jim Risch, (R. Idaho), who began by saying we must and will continue deepwater drilling, a view probably held by many who are unwilling to think we might move in a different direction. So what to do about the inevitable accidents we have to accept?

Risch stated emphatically that since government is incompetent — Ronald Reagan said that, so it must be true, and if not, let’s make it so — it’s wrong to entrust government with the task of "provide for the public welfare." Since a government regulatory effort so small it can be drowned in a bathtub can’t be trusted to perform the public health and safety function, Risch reasoned, why shouldn’t we let the industry form a private organization to set and oversee safety standards? He doesn’t seem to realize that industry had already gone a long ways towards turning MMS into that model.

A second Senate Committee hearing continues this afternoon with questioning of the industry execs.


AP: Oil spill testimony to Congress: Not our fault

HuffPost/Dan Froomkin, Fingerpointing

McClatchy, US Agency let oil industry write offshore drilling rules


From Drill Baby to Spill Baby to Burn, Baby, Burn: America’s Bankrupt Energy Policy

11:01 am in Uncategorized by Scarecrow

During the 2008 elections we were inundated with industry-inspired chants of "Drill now, drill everywhere, but drill, baby drill." Both Presidental candidates essentially embraced this.

At the time, we were repeatedly assured by the oil/gas industry and their supply-side apologists in both parties that modern off-shore drilling technology was safe, that environmental safeguards are/would be scrupulously observed, and that off-shore oil spills hardly ever happened or could be easily contained. None of that was true.

Today, the growing oil spill gushing through the non-functioning "safety value" at the destroyed oil platform has spread to an area up to 45 miles long and as wide as 25 miles across [Update: now more like 100 miles and growing]. It’s threatening to hit beaches and wildlife sanctuaries as early as tomorrow.

To slow (not prevent) this now out of control environmental catastrophe from spreading, the crews trying to limit the damage will attempt to tow a tiny portion of the surface oil further away from the coast lines and set it ablaze in the hope that maybe 50 percent of that small portion will burn up, causing less damage in the air then on the ocean surface, but leaving a gunk that, they claim, they can just "pick up" unless it sinks to the bottom.

The choices have now become grim. From the New York Times coverage [and see related maps and picture]:

A Coast Guard spokesman said on Wednesday that crews would begin with an initial burn in a confined area of the spill to determine the density of the oil.

According to a statement released by the group of industry and government officials supervising the burn, the oil will be consolidated “into a fire resistant boom approximately 500 feet long; this oil will then be towed to a more remote area, where it will be ignited and burned in a controlled manner.”

From there, officials will conduct “small, controlled burns of several thousand gallons of oil lasting approximately one hour each.”

So the plan is to cordon off and burn ponds 500 feet long as the way to attack a spill covering 45 miles by 25 miles and growing every day?

Recall that the safety valve at the well head, which was supposed to be able to shut off the flow through the pipe broken off from the destroyed platform has failed. Apparently, either the valves don’t work at 5000 feet under water — did anyone test it? — or the explosion and break damaged it, raising the question whether anyone ever thought of this possibility.

Remember this when the industry tries to tell us, as they inevitably will, that they have adequate safeguards in place against the potential for remote but still predictable catastrophic scenarios.

The alternatives, to drill additional nearby wells and shoot concrete into the same pool to clog it up, or to capture the oil with a huge bubble over the leaking pipe, are still months away at best and have never been attempted at these depths. Did anyone consider the fact that fallback measures might not work at these depths, or might not be implemented for months and thus allow massive spills to continue, to potentially destroy a vast region before being implemented, when they evaluated the adequacy of safety measures?

Failing to think through the consequences of what could go wrong under predictable scenarios lies at the heart of America’s morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt energy policies.

The only reason the fatal mine disaster in West Virginia has been pushed off the front pages, or we’re not focusing on the destruction of whole mountains and their watersheds and the health of communities nearby is because the oil platform catastrophe story, along with Lloyd Blankfein, filibusters and Greece, equally egregious symbols of unfettered markets and greed, replaced it.

But even before that, there were several related stories in recent months about the nuclear power industry. In one story, the President announced how building additional nukes would help us solve global climate change and promote energy independence. To further that, the government would provide billions in subsidies, in addition to the decades-old subsidies that insured nuclear operators from lawsuits over the consequences of nuclear accidents that, we were told, could never happen, until they did.

But about the same time, the nation’s nuclear plant owners were petitioning the Department of Energy to discontinue the requirement that they contribute millions each year to a fund to pay for the handling and disposal of spent fuel nuclear waste from existing plants. Their argument was simple: since the US Government has given up on Yucca Mountain and has conceded that it doesn’t have a proven, workable technology for disposing of toxic nuclear waste, or even a preferred site for where to put it, there’s no sense in contributing to the fund until the US gets its act together.

Excuse me, but the California Energy Commission studied the issue in depth, 30 years ago, and concluded that the DoE and NRC didn’t have a clue how to solve this problem. Thirty years later, we now know little more, except what doesn’t work.

The third nuclear story was the near accident in Chile, where nuclear waste materials were being removed from their original site, packed in supposedly safe containers to be shipped to the US for temporary safe storage. Luckily, the process of removing the toxic waste into the shipping container had just been completed days before the Chilean earthquake, so Chile dodged that bullet and it was still "safe." But the quake had damaged the original shipping port, so the container had to be secretly hauled over an alternative, unplanned route and shipped from a port not fully equipped to handle very large/heavy containers that you’re not supposed to drop, ever. As Rachel Maddow reported at the time, they literally almost dropped the container while loading it.

Stuff happens; really bad stuff happens. And it can happen at the worst moments with the most dangerous materials. And yet Congress and successive Administrations continue to develop and defend energy policies under the delusion that they’ve thought it through, and the deception that they’ve taken the right precautions and adequately warned the public about the real choices we’re making. But with the mainline energy choices on which the US is still dangerously dependent, we could do with lot more humility and a ton more honesty.

Meanwhile, we have to listen to narcissistic spoiled brats like Lindsey Graham tell us that he won’t do his job unless he gets enough attention. But the only goals Graham has ever had in the climate change/energy legislation is to make sure the nation continues to stay wedded to morally bankrupt energy choices.

Seminal/Seymour Friendly, Update on status and media coverage
Think Progress/Brad Johnson, Government investigates oil spill
GetEnergySmart Now!/ Fossil Fuel Investigations Overwhelming Government?
Charlie Crist to join "Not as crazy as Republicans" party; reconsiders off-shore drilling
HuffPo via Wasson They’re still blowing up our mountains . . .
Grist/Dave Roberts: On Graham Reid dance