You are browsing the archive for Deepwater Horizon.

Weekly Mulch: Chevron Must Pay; GOP Tries to Gut the EPA

2:52 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

An Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron this week to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest from 1964 until 1990. The payout is the second largest ever in an environmental case, with only the damages BP agreed to pay in the wake of last summer’s Deepwater Horizon spill being higher.

Environmental lawyers and advocates hailed the case as a landmark victory, but as Rebecca Tarbotton reports at AlterNet, Chevron is still planning to fight the case.

“In fact, the oil giant has repeatedly refused to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court,” she writes. “In one chilling statement, Charles A. James, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight ‘until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice.’”

The Cost of Doing Business

Chevron can continue to fight the case because it’s cheaper for them to fund their lawyers than to cough up billions. Like so many environmental issues, this one comes down to money, which environmentally destructive corporations always seem to have and activists, regulators, and victims simply don’t.

In Washington, the newly empowered Republican Party is doing its darndest to make sure that remains the case. It’s budget season, and the Environmental Protection Agency is one of the prime targets for cutting in Republicans’ budget proposals. Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that House Republicans are not only trying to take away $3 billion from the agency, but also are pushing to bar the EPA from regulating carbon or other greenhouse gasses. Putting this in context, Sheppard writes:

The National Wildlife Federation says the cuts amount to a “sneak attack” on existing environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, because they would make it basically impossible for the EPA to do its job. The huge cut—the biggest in 30 years—”would jeopardize the water we drink and air we breathe, endangering the health and well-being of all Americans,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Monday.

The need for green

But environmentalists have their backers, too. At Grist, Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist who co-founded the climate group 350.org, has an interesting look at how the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, led by Bruce Nilles, banded together with other environmental activists to successfully shut down proposals for coal-fired power plants across the country. One of the keys, of course, was money:

A consortium of foundations led by the Rockefeller Family Fund helped provide not only resources for the fight but crucial coordination. By the summer of 2005, RFF’s Larry Shapiro, David Wooley from The Energy Foundation, Nilles, and others formed a loosely organized “coal cadre.”

The coordination was crucial not only for the advocacy groups involved, which each have different strengths and geographical bases, but for the money men as well:

“I first went to Florida in 2005 to meet with several groups fighting coal plants,” said Shapiro. “I thought I would figure out who we could give $50,000 to. After my trip, I realized it wasn’t a $50,000 project — it was a million-dollar project. Over time, the Energy Foundation and others got into the game, so we ended up with some real money.”

In the end, McKibben reports, RFF gathered together, from its own pockets and from other foundations, $2.8 million.

Windfall

On top of the type of advocacy work that McKibben details, there’s another reason why more communities and companies are moving away from coal-fired power plants: they have a choice. Plants fueled with natural gas are a popular alternative, but as Gina Marie Cheeseman writes at Care2, in some areas, onshore wind power can compete with coal on costs.

“In some areas of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Sweden, the cost of wind power ($68 per megawatt hour) generated electricity is competitive with coal-fired power ($67 a megawatt hour),” Cheeseman writes. Wind power is also, she notes, competitive with natural gas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Close to home

These sort of adjustments make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. And in the end, personal choices do impact the amount of carbon humanity is spewing into the atmosphere. As two recent European studies showed, men make choices that generally produce more carbon emissions than women, Julio Godoy reported for Inter Press Service.

One study focused on France, the other on Germany, Greece, Norway, and Sweden. The second study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, found that men ate more meat, drank more processed beverages, and drove more frequently and for longer distances. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, one of the study’s authors, has argued that their results apply more broadly, too.

“These differences are not specific to the four countries studied, but are generalised across the European Union and have little to do with the different professional activities of men and women,” she told Godoy.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: When will America be free from BP?

12:41 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

On July 4th, Americans are supposed to celebrate their independence. We may no longer have to worry about a greedy, distant monarch. But our country is still held in thrall to powerful interests that prize profit over individuals and their freedom—the energy industry comes to mind. As Jason Mark puts it at AlterNet:

“We’re in an abusive relationship and unable to leave our abuser. The plight of the people in Louisiana proves the point. Louisianans have been punched in the face by the hand that feeds them, and yet their biggest worry is that the oil and gas industry is going to walk out the door and leave them.”

Where’s the love?

It’s clear that BP, for instance, isn’t playing carefully with our country or its resources. At Mother Jones, David Corn relates the latest example of the company’s callousness. Its recovery plan had no stipulations about handling even a small storm like the one that stopped clean-up this week. It did, however, include plans to save sea life that hasn’t lived in the Gulf for millions of years. As Corn put it, the company was “prepared for walruses, not prepared for hurricanes.”

The biggest problem, of course, is that BP wasn’t prepared to handle a blow-out to begin with. The leak has gone on for so long that governmental officials are now taking unprecedented measures to protect the wildlife most vulnerable to its effects. Beth Buczynski reports at Care2 that official are going to dig up about 700 sea turtle nests on Alabama and Florida beaches that are at risk from the oil.

“Once the eggs have hatched, the young turtles will be released in darkness on Florida’s Atlantic beaches into oil-free water,” she writes. “Translocation of nests on this scale has never been attempted before.”

Halliburton

No matter how badly these companies treat us, it seems we can’t get rid of them. Take Halliburton. The company has latched its talons into the country and will not let go. It is second only to BP in shouldering responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon spill. As Jason Mark reports for the Earth Island Journal, just before the oil spill, Halliburton took over Boots & Coots, a company that deals with oil-well blowouts; that company now has a contract with BP to help with the relief well.

“Halliburton is essentially making money from causing the accident and then helping to repair it,” Mark writes. “Halliburton’s many-fingered tentacles is just the latest illustration of how powerful the company is.”

Wimpy Washington

Washington isn’t strong enough to fight back against that sort of corporate power. Over the past year, energy interests have whittled down the climate change legislation to a tepid half-step. Right now it looks most likely that a bill that passes will regulate only the utilities sector.

"We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further," Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told Politico this week after a White House meeting on the bill.

“If you’re looking for the sorry state of American energy politics distilled into one line, there it is,” writes Jonathan Hiskes at Grist. “Kerry fights harder for clean energy than just about any national politician.”

Still, if anything passes the Senate, Washington will celebrate. As Aaron Wiener explains at the Washington Independent, “For all the disappointment among environmentalists over the repeated compromises Democrats have made on climate legislation to win over moderates, some argue that a utilities-only cap would achieve most of the goals of an economy-wide carbon pricing scheme. The question now is whether Democratic leaders in the Senate can muster 60 votes for even a weakened bill to overcome a Republican filibuster.”

Our friends abroad

On an international level, our governing bodies might be doing a better job, but not by much. Inter Press Service reports that the countries at the meeting promised to scale back taxpayer subsidies of fossil fuels. Even that promise is limited, however. “Countries agree to phase out "inefficient fossil fuel subsidies" but each country decides what those are,” IPS reports. “Some countries like Japan, Australia, Italy and others have already said they don’t have any.”

And at Earth Island Journal, Ron Johnson heard a different story.

Johnson spoke to Kim Carstensen, who leads the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate Initiative, who compared this meeting’s report to that of the last G20 summit and found that climate issues had dropped off the radar. “There were eight references to clean energy in the final report from Pittsburgh (the last G20 Summit) and they have been completely vacuum cleaned,” he said. “That is kind of scary.”

Fight back

In situations like this, it takes massive pressure from outside to move the political apparatus forward. At AlterNet, Heetan Kalan has some ideas about how to progress—reach beyond the environmental community; enlist “doctors, nurses, public health officials and patients speaking out about the connection between consumers of coal energy and their immediate health concerns.” Kalan writes:

“After all, climate change is not solely an environmental problem — it is a human/planetary problem. If we are going to rely on a small base of environmentalists to carry us through this crisis, we are in trouble. Our spokespeople on this issue have to come from a wide spectrum of citizens and leaders.”

Certainly, they have to come from somewhere, and as Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly, whoever is speaking on this issue now, they’re not speaking loud enough.

“Lawmakers aren’t facing much in the way of public pressure,” he writes. “The polls look encouraging, suggesting the public is inclined to back the Democratic proposals, but that support hasn’t translated into aggressive advocacy — phone calls to lawmakers’ offices, letter-writing campaigns, district meetings, sizable rallies, etc….If engaged constituents want more, Congress will have to feel considerably more heat than they are now.”

In other words, if America wants to be free of coal, oil, gas, and the energy industry, we’re going to have to fight for it.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: As risks for oil and gas grow, USSF offers change

8:33 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

BP oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for more than two months, and while attention has focused there, deepwater oil drilling is just one of many risky methods of energy extraction that industry is pursuing. Gasland, Josh Fox’s documentary about the effects of hydrofracking, a new technique for extracting natural gas, was broadcast this week on HBO. In the film, Fox travels across the country visiting families whose water has turned toxic since gas companies began drilling in their area.

“So many people were quick to respond to our requests to be interviewed about fracking that I could tell instantly that this was a national problem—and nobody had really talked enough about it,” Fox told The Nation this week.

Natural gas

In Washington, even green groups like the Sierra Club have been pushing natural gas as a clean alternative to fuels like coal; reports like Fox’s suggest that the environmental costs of obtaining that gas are not yet clear. Besides water contamination, natural gas opponents are also documenting environmental damage to air quality. Like the problems with deepwater oil drillin, which became apparent after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the dangers of hydrofracking could go unchecked until disaster strikes.

And both deepwater drilling and hydrofracking are symptoms of the greater crisis threatening the country: as energy resources become harder to extract, energy companies are taking greater risks to get at the valuable fuels.

Drilling on government land

As Fox documents, new gas wells are popping up like gopher holes all over the country, on private and public lands. Just this week, Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy law group, challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow drilling in a southwestern Colorado mountain range, the Colorado Independent reports.

“The HD Mountains are the last tiny, little corner of the San Juan Basin not yet drilled for natural gas development,” Jim Fitzgerald, a farmer, told Earthjustice. “This whole area depends on the HD Mountains watersheds. Drilling could have disastrous effects upon them.”

From coast to coast

Coloradans are not the only ones pushing back against drilling. In The Nation, Kara Cusolito writes about the problems Dimock, PA, has faced:

After a stray drill bit banged four wells in 2008…weird things started happening to people’s water: some flushed black, some orange, some turned bubbly. One well exploded, the result of methane migration, and residents say elevated metal and toluene levels have ruined twelve others. Then, in September 2009, about 8,000 gallons of hazardous drilling fluids spilled into nearby fields and creeks.

After that second incident, fifteen families began a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas, the gas company that’s dominating that area. In The American Prospect, Alex Halperin wrote a couple of months back about efforts to fight back against natural gas drilling in Ithaca, NY.

Regulation

One of the problems with hydrofracking is that it’s poorly regulated right now. No one except the natural gas companies know what goes into the “fracking fluid” that they pour into wells to help bubble the gas up to the surface. A loophole in the Safe Water Drinking Act also exempted the practice from regulation.

That situation could be changing, however. As Amy Westervelt writes at Earth Island Journal:

"Thanks in large part to the work done by a handful of journalists and angry residents over the past couple of years, the EPA is finally looking into fracking more seriously. In fact, they’re looking into it so comprehensively the energy companies are getting worried. It’s worth noting here that all the big oil guys have a big stake in natural gas drilling, and many of them have contractual loopholes with the smaller companies that own the gas drilling leases that if fracking is taken off the table as a legitimate drilling process, they’re out."

Like deepwater oil drilling, fracking is a relatively new endeavor, the risks of which are not fully understood. Unlike that type of drilling, though, the opportunity still exists to create a framework in which the companies will have some accountability to the environments and communities that they threaten.

Future present

Besides regulating the industries who are providing energy now, the environmental community needs to keep pressing towards a future where the country does not depend on fossil fuels like oil and gas to run our world. This week, at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, thousands of people are considering how to fight against problems like these.

Ahmina Maxey, for instance, is a member of the Zero Waste Detroit Coalition. “We are planning, next Saturday, the Clean Air, Good Jobs, Justice march to the incinerator to demand that the city of Detroit clean up its air,” she told Democracy Now!

Green Detroit

As Elizabeth DiNovella writes for The Progressive, Detroit is working towards green solutions to some of its problems. DiNovella reports:

“Detroit’s population has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was forty or fifty years ago, leaving lots of open green space. But neighborhood groups are transforming these vacant lots into community gardens. Seven years ago there were 8o community gardens, consisting of neighborhood gardens, backyard patches, and school gardens. By 2009, there were 800 community gardens. This year there are 1200, including some urban farms.”

“As far as I’m concerned, Detroit is ground zero for the sustainability movement,” writes Ron Williams for Free Speech TV. He explains:

“What we need now is a collaborative effort that could echo around the world. An Urban Green Lab. What possible better stage than the 11th largest city in the United States which is experiencing Depression-level economic conditions? Let’s take sustainability home. Collectively we have everything the people of Detroit need to build their city anew. Their solutions are likely to be the very same solutions every community will need in some form in the years ahead.”

Here’s hoping ideas like this take root.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: BP Oil Spill Stalls Climate Bill

8:52 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

"There’s a dead dolphin on this beach," Mother Jones‘ Mac McClelland, wrote yesterday in Louisiana. It’s one snapshot of the harm visited on the Gulf Coast by the BP oil spill. Back in Washington, the Senate climate bill, which would put the country on a path to cleaner energy consumption, is on its last legs.

You’d think that after a seemingly unstoppable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (official estimates are up to 50,000 barrels a day, as of yesterday) and the hottest spring on record (hello, climate change!), U.S. citizens and elected representatives would recognize that our country’s thirst for resources has consequences.

It’s not just that oil is spilling into the Gulf, even after BP hit on a fix. Besides the blow-out that has dominated headlines, another, more routine spill showed up near the Louisiana coast. The Deepwater Horizon spill is now the larger of two spills in the Gulf Coast, according to Care2. A week ago in Pennsylvania, a natural gas well owned by EOG Resources (formerly Enron) shot a geyser of chemical-laced water 75 feet into the air; and on Monday, in West Virginia, another natural gas well, this one owned by Chief Oil and Natural Gas, also exploded, as AlterNet reports.

Yet BP is still supplying the Pentagon with oil and gas, as Jeremy Scahill writes at The Nation. Senators are still supporting natural gas exploration and off-shore oil drilling. The White House has also abandoned any intention of pushing for strong legislation that would push for better, cleaner energy.

Lifestyle vs. lives

Americans aren’t willing to give up their lifestyle, so wild animals are giving up their lives. One casualty of the BP spill in the Gulf might be bluefin tuna. Their population is 20% of what it was 40 years ago, Inter Press Service reports. Although the effects of the oil spill won’t be entirely clear for a few years, scientists are worried.

“Biologically, bluefin are already unlucky,” IPS writes. “The fish – which can be as long as and faster than a sports car – only spawn once a year and only in certain locations.”

Schools of the tuna, IPS reports, are headed now towards the Gulf of Mexico.

"The spill has been going on during their peak spawning period in the only place the western population spawns, so in timing and location it’s probably the worst place you could have it and during the worst time," Lee Crocket, director of federal fisheries policy at Pew Environment, told IPS.

All the creatures of the sea

It’s not just tuna that are at risk, either. Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty has been documenting the fate of birds, fish, and other sea creatures that come into contact with the oil in the Gulf. She visited Elmer’s Island, LA, and snapped a shot of one of the dead jelly fish that had washed up on the shore:

“There were dead Portuguese man o’war jellies—one of the few species that weather the travails of the dead zone that afflicts these waters each summer. The dead zone is an area around the outflow of the Mississippi River made hypoxic by too many nutrients flowing downstream, mostly from farms and ranches. If you’re a jellyfish, a dead zone is survivable. Apparently an oiled zone is not.”

BP’s shroud of secrecy

BP has been remarkably cagey with the public about what’s going on in the Gulf. In addition to keeping reporters away from soiled area, the company hasn’t shown much interest in understanding exactly how much oil it’s spilling into the ocean. Initial estimates of 1,000 barrels per day have blossomed into estimates, on the low end, of 25,000 barrels. On Democracy Now!, scientist Ira Leifer said that the company is being more forthcoming with information now than it was originally. But he’d like a fuller picture:

“What there really should be at these kind of sites is some acoustic methods, whether it’s sonar or passive listening devices, or other approaches that continuously are monitoring and waiting for something to happen and then would provide a nonstop, steady data stream, so we could actually learn from what happens….These things, they’re not steady states. They belch. They have large eruptions.”

What that means, Leifer said, is that it’s not necessarily accurate to talk about a definitive rate at which the oil is pouring out. In his words, “the flow today is not necessarily the flow tomorrow.” What’s more, the attempts to stop the spill can make it worse. One concern is that the rock surrounding the pipe could “give out,” Leifer says. In that scenario, the oil would not just come from the pipe but from many sites in the surrounding sea bed.

“This reservoir is massive, and it could easily flow that kind of oil for the next twenty or thirty years, if it was left to go unattended,” Leifer said. “So the amount of oil that could end up in the environment if measures are not successful is at what I would call unimaginable.”

Spin, BP, spin

Given that sort of doomsday scenario, it’s not surprising that BP has plans to promise as little as possible to the spill’s victims. As Justin Elliott reports at TPMMuckraker, the company’s plan for oil spills instructs its spokespeople not to promise anything.

BP’s June 2009 Gulf of Mexico Regional Oil Spill Response Plan reads: "No statement shall be made containing … Promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal,” Elliott writes.

Solutions

How to move beyond these horror stories? This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) completely disowned the climate legislation he was working on before, and both Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum and The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen bemoaned the climate bill’s fate.

Yesterday, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon. Although the amendment failed, support from Democrats like Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln signals that the support isn’t there for even unambitious climate legislation. And at this juncture, it seems like the U.S. has done more harm than good in the international arena.

Coping with Copenhagen

International leaders are at Bonn this week, trying to pick up the pieces from last November’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

"Copenhagen was a pretty horrible conference," conceded Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as IPS reports. "This year it’s about restoring trust.”

For the U.S., passing climate legislation would help.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Oil Spill Could Bring Mass Extinction to the Gulf Coast

9:12 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The company’s CEO said this morning on CBS that it was possible that this fix could capture up to 90% of the oil, but that it will take 24 to 48 hours to understand how well this solution is working. Adm. Thad Allen, the former Coast Guard chief and oil spill incident commander, called the cap "only a temporary and partial fix."

Despite the capping procedure, it became clear this week that the onrush of oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon rig will not cease any time soon. Even in the best case scenario, thousands of barrels of oil will still flow into the ocean. Destruction is already spreading along the Gulf Coast, and before the oil stops leaking, species might be extinct and industries destroyed.

In the coming months—it’s not clear how many—oil will continue to pollute the Gulf of Mexico. BP and the Obama administration are talking about August as the end of this crisis, but other experts have projected that the spill could last until Christmas.

As Justin Elliott reports for TPMMuckraker, BP told the government it could handle a spill much larger than this one. In the initial exploration plan for the well, BP claimed "it was prepared to respond to a blowout flowing at 300,000 barrels per day — as much as 25 times the rate of the current spill," Elliott writes. BP cannot, it turns out, respond to a blowout flowing less than 20,000 barrels per day, and the consequences for the Gulf communities are only beginning to emerge. The first casualty will be Gulf ecosystem and its inhabitants. The second casualty will be the livelihood of Gulf communities that have depended on fish, shrimp, and oysters for survival.

How long?

In 1979, another company released torrents of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, in much shallower waters than where BP was drilling. As Rachel Slajda writes for TPMMuckeraker, the clean-up methods the oil industry relied on three decades ago are similar to the technology BP is trying now. The Ixtoc spill was comparatively easy to address; yet it still took 10 months to stop.

During that spill, the nearest state, Texas, had two months to prepare for the oil to hit shore, and still “1,421 birds were found with oiled feathers and feet,” Slajda writes. The fishing industry escaped much damage, but the tourism industry lost 7-10% of its business.

Dead fish

In Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and other states affected by this spill, fish, fowl, restaurateurs, and oystermen won’t get off easy. As Care2 reports, the National Wildlife Federation has already documented the deaths of more than 150 threatened or endangered sea turtles and of 316 seabirds (“mostly brown pelicans and northern gannets”).

And BP is trying to keep images of the animal victims away from the public. Julia Whitty, reporting from Louisiana, writes for Mother Jones:

All up and down this shoreline angry and scared people told me some scary and infuriating stories in the past few days. I heard about the the dead and dying wildlife we’re never going to see because the victims are being carted away to early responder ships and to inaccessible buildings onshore. I’ve seen some of those photographs which can’t be shown (according to BP’s new orders) of dolphins swimming through thick gunky oil, struggling sperm whales trailing wakes a mile long in thick gunky oil, dead jellyfish in gunky oil.

Extinction

The impact of the oil spill goes beyond those individual bodies, though. As Inter Press Service reports, environmentalists and scientists “are beginning to reckon with the reality of a massive annihilation of sea creatures and wildlife.”

“You could potentially lose whole species, have extinction events,” Michael Blum, a Tulane ecology professor told IPS. “Brown pelicans were just taken off the endangered species list. On this threshold, a big dieback and mortality event, they would be pushed back into a situation where they could be endangered.” Also at Care2, Jay Holcomb, Executive Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, demonstrates a brown pelican being de-oiled, her feathers shampooed with Dawn detergent, her head and pouch cleaned with Q-tips.

Livelihoods destroyed

For generations, Gulf Coast residents made their living by fishing. Their fishing grounds are now off-limits. Some have found short-term work with BP fighting the oil. But those jobs come with new hazards.

Some clean-up workers have reported dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath that they think comes from exposure to chemical dispersants. BP is not providing safety gear that would clean the air workers breathe and has threatened to fire clean-up workers who bring their own, Colorlines reports.

In the long-term, Gulf Coast fishermen may have no source of income and will have to abandon their homes and professions.

“It’s a way of life,” shrimper Dean Blachard told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman this week. “They destroyed a way of life, a way of life that if you take it away too long, you can’t learn this in a school. This is passed from generation to generation, so the daddy teaches the son, and the son teaches his son. And, you know, once the chain is broke, you’re never going to get it back.”

It’s understandable that the residents of the Gulf Coast might want BP to pay for the damage. At The Nation, Chris Hayes reveals that BP could be on the hook for mitigation, the cash value of injured property, and for punitive damages–all beyond the cost of cleanup itself. But, as Zygmunt J. B. Plater, a law professor who chaired a legal task force on the Exxon Valdez spill, explains:

“In Alaska, most of the damage was suffered by communities who had their quality of life destroyed, and there’s no way to put a dollar value on that.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Why the Senate Climate Bill is Doomed

8:11 am in Media by TheMediaConsortium

Weekly Mulch: Why the Senate Climate Bill is Doomed

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), though down one man, finally released their stab at climate legislation this week. One of the most crucial sections in the bill covers off-shore oil drilling, an issue that was supposed to help solve the tricky math of reaching 60 votes. But since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling has become a wedge issue.

Just a few weeks ago, off-shore drilling could have been a point of compromise around which Senators could rally votes to pass the climate bill; now the bill had to strike a new balance to mollify both potential allies who oppose drilling, like Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and those who support drilling, like Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The draft that Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman released this week allows for expanded drilling but gives states veto power over new projects.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who worked on the bill, said that he had not seen the changes his two colleagues had made since he dropped out of the drafting process—but he looked forward to reviewing their work. Although Sen. Kerry says he thinks the bill can pass, without support from Sen. Graham or another Republican, chances are slim.

Next steps

Now that the two Senators have released the bill, the only work that remains is to pass it.

“I think climate change legislation is dead,” writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. His explanation:

“There’s not enough time for a bill to go through the committee process, get passed by the Senate, sent to conference, amended, and then passed by the full Congress before the midterms, and after the midterms Democrats will probably be reduced to 53 or 54 members in the Senate.”

Not everyone agrees that the bill’s chance are so dire, though.

“I think the chances are roughly as good as they’ve ever been in the Senate: low but non-trivial,” says Grist’s David Roberts.

Kerry’s argument

But should green-minded politicos root for the bill’s passage at all? Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman worked closely with energy companies while drafting the bill, and the resulting legislation balances the need to reduce carbon emissions with the interests of prime polluters. The bill includes incentives for old energy industries like coal and natural gas, for instance, and exempts farmers from carbon caps.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kerry made his case to left-leaning environmentalists. “A comprehensive climate bill written purely for you and me — true believers — can’t pass the Senate no matter how hard or passionate I fight on it,” he wrote for Grist. The bill they have, he wrote, can pass, and that victory outweighs the compromises in the legislation.

Responses from the left

On Democracy Now!, Phil Radford, the executive director of GreenPeace USA, said that most environmental groups have given the bill little more than a “tepid endorsement.” Radford squared off on the show with Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress, who supports the bill.

“This will be the first bill ever passed by the Senate, if it were to pass, that would put us on a path to get off of fossil fuels,” Romm said.

The two men were also divided over issues like the impact the climate bill could have on international negotiations.

They agreed, though, there is room for improvement; the only question is whether the politics of climate change will allow for the passage of a stronger bill any times soon. As Kevin Drum wrote, “If you think this year’s bills are watered down, just wait until you see what a Congress with a hair-thin Democratic majority produces.”

Coal and natural gas

Tripping up environmentalists now, though, are the hand-outs to dirty energy industries. The coal and natural gas industry could both benefit from the provisions of the Senate bill, for instance.

On GritTV, Jeff Biggers, a writer and educator who covers the coal industry, explained his frustration:

“The climate bill is a nice first step and a very well meaning effort for someone like Sen. Kerry who’s been working on this issue for 20 years. But at the same time, because of the massive big coal lobby that has poured millions of dollars into lobbying congress on this climate legislation…there are all sorts of little panders and loopholes and exemptions.”

“What we see in this bill is that Sen. Kerry and Lieberman want to ensure coal’s future,” he said.

The booming natural gas industry also had a hand in shaping the bill and benefited from it. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club favor natural gas as an energy source over coal, and as Kari Lydersen reports in Working In These Times, the industry is driving job growth at a time when the economy needs a boost.

But as Alex Halperin reported last month for The American Prospect, in the places where drilling is occurring, like Ithaca, NY, activists are arguing that the environmental risks could outweigh those economic benefits.

Drill or be drilled

That devil’s bargain—risking natural resources for jobs in the energy industry—went the wrong way for the Gulf Coast, and states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida are paying the price even before the oil hits shore.

As I report in AlterNet, the Gulf’s economy could lose billions of dollars and is suffering already from the misconception that its beaches are tarred with oil. With this catastrophe still fresh in voters’ minds, the Senate climate bill proposes pushing new drilling initiatives 75 miles offshore and giving affected states veto power over these projects.

Depending on how long the memory of the Deepwater Horizon spill lasts, politicians could have a good reason to veto drilling. Public News Service reports that 55% of Floridians now oppose off-shore drilling, “almost a complete reversal from one year ago.”

Blame game

Certainly no one is stepping up to take responsibility for the explosion off the coast of Louisiana, as the Washington Independent reports. At a hearing this week, officials from British Petroleum, which was operating the well, Transocean, which owns it, and Halliburton, which was doing contract work that may have caused the problem, all denied wrongdoing and pressed the blame on each other.

It’s starting to look Halliburton played a key part. “The focus is increasingly shifting to the role of Halliburton, which poured the cement for the rig, as well as for another operation that spilled oil off the coast of Australia last August,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. The company apparently did not place a cement plug that would have kept gas in the well before emptying it of the mud that was holding in the flammable gas.

Anyone living in a state that could have new drilling off their coast should keep this catastrophe in mind if their politicians are given the option of vetoing new projects.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Slick of Oil Industry Cash Gummed up Regulatory Works

10:01 am in BP oil disaster, Energy, Media by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is worse than anyone thought, and the crisis will likely go on for months. British Petroleum (BP) is tripping over itself to say it’ll cover the costs of the clean-up, yet before the spill, the company spent its time and money pushing back against government regulation and safety measures.

Care2 reports, “A piece of machinery costing .004% of BP’s 2009 profits might have prevented the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is currently threatening the U.S. gulf coast. An acoustic valve designed as a final failsafe to prevent oil spills costs $500,000; the Wall Street Journal writes that the valve, while not proven effective, is required on oil rigs in Norway and Brazil, but not in the U.S.”

Oil is drifting towards the southeastern coastline as clean-up crews and politicians scramble to respond. BP has not staunched the leaks that are pouring more than 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

Beach communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are bracing for the oil’s arrival and waiting to see what the damage to their businesses and their natural resources will be. And in Washington, members of Congress, who just a couple of weeks ago were willing to compromise on off-shore drilling expansion are rallying against the practice.

As Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said this week, “accidents happen,” but in this case, it’s becoming clear that the oil industry and government regulators did not do all they could to minimize the risks of a spill.

The slick

Over the past week, reporters trying to describe the size of the spill have compared it to Jamaica or Puerto Rico. Public News Service talked to Steve Bousquet, Tallahassee bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times, who saw the slick in flight.

"It’s really a horrifying thing to see because of the magnitude of it,” Bousquet said. “They use these chemicals to break up the oil and it takes on a kind of rust-colored look to it. And we saw these long streaks, miles and miles long of oil, and just oil as far as the eye can see."

The visual stretch of the spill hardly represents the scope of its impact, either. As Dr. Riki Ott, a Chelsea Green author, explained to CNN:

“This is Louisiana sweet crude, and it’s got a lot of what’s called “light ends,” which evaporate very quickly into the air and also dissolve very readily into the water column. So what you see on the surface is like the tip of the iceberg…Imagine a big cumulus cloud of dissolved and dispersed oil under the slick, wherever it is. And that cloud is extremely toxic to everything in the water column — shellfish, eggs and embryos — so shrimp eggs and young life forms that are in the water column, young fish.”

According to Dr. Ott, the extent of the damage won’t be clear for a few years. Oyster fisherman, for instance, would usually be seeding oysters now, as the crops take two years to mature. That work needs to be done within the next few months to avoid economic losses two years in the future, but the precautionary measures shutting off access to waters east of the Mississippi are keeping that from happening.

Oiling the machine

It’s no accident that oil interests work under looser rules. As Lindsay Beyerstein reported last week for Working In These Times, BP wrote to the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) saying that tighter regulation of the oil industry was unnecessary. MMS doesn’t have a stellar history of oversight, and if you’re not familiar with its sordid past, TPM’s Justin Elliott put together a tour through the agency’s history with sex and drugs.

The industry hasn’t just been selling snake oil to MMS, though. Oil companies have been greasing the palms of politicians with campaign donations for years. Democracy Now! spoke to Antonia Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil, about the oil industry’s influence.

“The entire oil industry, will continue to use its vast wealth – unequaled by any global industry – to escape regulation, restriction, oversight and enforcement,” Juhasz says. “BP, now the source of the last two great deadly US oil industry explosions, has shown us that this simply cannot be permitted.”

The new politics of climate

To see the oil industry’s influence in action, look no further than the ongoing work on the Senate’s climate legislation. Two weeks ago, before the spill, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) announced that the oil industry would back the tri-partisan legislation that he was working on with Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Since then, Graham has stepped away from the bill, and off-shore drilling, a keystone of the negotiations over the legislation, has become much less politically palatable.

But this Wednesday, Kerry had nothing but nice things to say about the oil industry, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones.

“While he acknowledged that "we can’t drill and burn our way out of danger," Kerry also spoke highly of the oil companies backing the draft legislation, which was supposed to be released last week,” Sheppard writes. “BP, operator of the rig currently spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, was expected to be among the supporters.”

"Ironically we’ve been working very closely with some of these oil companies in the last months," Kerry said. "I took them in good faith. They have worked hard with us to find a solution that meets all of our needs.”

Kerry still seems confident that the climate and energy bill will move forward, but, Steve Benen writes at the Washington Monthly, that’s things are far from certain.

“The legislation was predicated on something of a grand bargain — the left would get cap-and-trade and investment in renewables; the right would get nuclear plants and offshore drilling,” Benen explains. “But in the wake of the catastrophe in the Gulf, there is no deal. Key Dems now insist drilling be taken off the table, while Republicans and Democratic industry allies (Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, for example) now insist they won’t even consider a bill unless it includes plenty of drilling.”

While the White House is saying that the oil spill may spur interest in and support for clean energy legislation from Congress, that hasn’t happened yet. Congressional leaders might have to wait for the noise from the Hill to die down before they can re-start serious discussions about how to pass a climate bill.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.