When I was a kid our family lived in Mobile, Alabama. We enjoyed the “fish jubilee” over on the Baldwin County side of Mobile Bay. This occurred when the moon and tide reached a certain alignment causing fish and crabs to swim up to the edge of the water, especially at night. By moonlight with small nets we scooped up flounder, red fish, trout and crabs teeming in the shallow water at the edge of the bay. We also enjoyed our annual vacations at my grandmother’s cottage at Sunnyside Beach near Panama City in the Florida Panhandle. The sandy beaches were as white as snow. We enjoyed fishing; catching red fish in a cove, flounder under a bridge in a small bay called Phillips Inlet, and red snapper and grouper by bottom fishing out in the Gulf. We gathered oysters in bays and coves. This abundant sea life is now threatened by a slick and slimy oil spill caused by slick and slimy British Petroleum (BP) executives.
The BP oil spill will destroy much of the fish, shrimp, crabs, and the oyster beds. The Gulf region accounts for about one-fifth of total U.S. commercial seafood production and nearly three-quarters of the nation’s shrimp output. The oil spill is becoming the nation’s worst environmental disaster ever, threatening hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world’s richest seafood grounds.
“It is of grave concern,” David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press. “I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing.”
Meanwhile congressional committee members, probing the spill, focused on possible defects in critical safety devises. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif) called it “a calamitous series of equipment and operational failures. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), an oil industry supporter, said there was “in all probability shoddy maintenance,” as well as “mislabeled components.”
Among the possible ways to plug the leak that is spewing 210,000 gallons of oil a day, BP proposed a so-called “junk shot” procedure, in which shredded tires, golf balls and other material would be pumped into the leak. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) said BP is “largely making it up as they go….When we heard the best minds were on the case, we expected MIT and not the PGA.”
The disaster contributes to a sense that government failed again, just as it did during Hurricane Katrina. Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, Louisiana said, “They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren’t proactive.”
Without crucial environmental and safety studies, the Obama administration intervened in court to ensure that BP’s Gulf drilling operations would go forward. The administration’s efforts applied specifically to the site run by BP. It exploded on April 26, killing 11 workers and creating an oil slick that is an unparalleled disaster on the Gulf Coast.
The Obama administration joined BP in quashing environmental challenges to Gulf drilling in 2009 legal actions by Ken Salazar, Obama’s Secretary of Interior. They asked the federal court of appeals in Washington, DC to overturn their decision that blocked new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf, referring to the same area where the explosion later occurred.
The appeals court partially approved Salazar’s petition, with the condition that the administration produce an environmental impact study for Gulf of Mexico drilling operations. The Obama administration granted BP a “categorical exemption” from producing a legally required environmental impact study and approved its exploration plan for the location of the future spill.
The Department of the Interior appealed the ruling, arguing that exploration had begun, and that “attempting to restore the status quo would therefore be extraordinarily difficult.”
Democrats have pushed deregulation as much as Republicans. In the 2008 elections BP employees gave Obama $71,000, more than they gave to any other candidate. They have spent tens of millions lobbying in the past three years, purchasing support of powerful politicians in both parties. BP, the 4th largest corporation in the world with yearly revenues of $327 billion, gave about 60 % of their campaign contributions to Republicans and 40 % to Democrats in the last election cycle.
In 2008 candidate Obama rejected calls to open new areas for drilling, saying, “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines but no short-term benefits, since it would take at least 10 years to get any oil.” He said off-shore drilling would not lower gas prices. And, “when I’m president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida’s coasts.”
On March 31, 2010, Obama flip-flopped, proposing opening the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the north coast of Alaska to drilling.
Nowadays we vacation at Edisto Beach in South Carolina with our children and grandchildren and enjoy fishing, crabbing, and shrimping together. How long before the slick and slimy bosses of big oil bring their deadly oil slicks here too?
TOM TURNIPSEED is an attorney, writer and peace activist in Columbia, SC. His blog is http://tomandjudyonablog.blogspot.com/