First Katrina and now oil spills. It seems the Gulf Coast region has become the victim of an environmental wrath of Biblical proportion. In recent years it has been hammered by both disastrous weather and disastrous politics. But this recent catastrophe where a BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf Coast, killing 11 oil workers and continues to leak millions of gallons of crude oil into the water threatening, daily, both human and wildlife, is not President Obama’s Katrina. Obama did not have the same slow, removed, Bush-like response to the natural disaster, flying over the destruction in Air Force One while black folks perished. Nor did he send in a feeble-FEMA leader in the 11th hour.
When the events unfolded, Obama made the oil spill a national emergency, providing federal resources to help in the clean up. He plans to personally visit Louisiana on Sunday to bear witness to the devastation. So this “unnatural disaster” is not Obama’s Katrina. However, he is responsible for supporting the real culprit: off shore drilling in our national waters. He has, unfortunately, joined his Republican colleagues, viewing off-shore drilling as the safe way to go.
Approximately 30 thousand oil rigs are in the Gulf, extracting sweet crude oil for American consumption. According to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, 30% of our domestic oil production comes from the Gulf Coast. BP, a big player in this offshore industry, has a horrible track record on safety and labor standards. Over the last decade, the company has been responsible for numerous environmental accidents, from refinery explosions in Texas, rig leaks in Alaska to this major oil spill in the Gulf Coast that is the worse in our nation’s history.
Although BP is solely responsible for starting this disaster, our own avarice for oil is also killing us by air, land and sea, from climate change to crude in our coral reefs. While we crave more oil and shun alternative energy sources, our federal dollars are being used to help BP clean up something it caused. We have U.S. Navy trying to mop up a spill the size of Connecticut.
Further the lax government regulation of the offshore drilling accelerates the free-for-all approach to this risky enterprise. It is also fascinating that the biggest Republican proponents of offshore drilling, Sarah Palin and Michael Steele have been virtually silent on this disaster. They seem to be only fair-weather friends to the oil industry when things are running smoothly and contributions are filling GOP coffers.
Republican Governor Bobby Jindhal of Louisiana is feeling the direct effect of offshore drilling, however, as an oil slick continues to make its way to his shores, not only shutting down the fishing industry but potentially bankrupting an already impoverished state. He even voiced concern with BP’s ability to take care of this mess. I believe BP should pay restitution to the people of Louisiana as well as the other states in the region.
A potential upside to these unfolding events, if there is one in sight, is that now is the most opportune time to push through stronger environmental regulations, while pulling back on new and speculative offshore drilling, particularly in the Gulf and Alaska regions. Coupled with this should be a new agenda for reducing our dependency on both foreign and domestic oil, and moving toward viable alternative energy. Obama needs to link offshore drilling to his larger position on climate change, which he believes is a real threat. If we do not take aggressive, coordinated steps, toward an environmental agenda we will all suffer with more Katrinas for generations to come.