Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Where Are Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman When We Need Them

Dear President Obama:
Where is “the fierce urgency of now” when it comes to saving our environment? As President, Sir, you have a solemn duty and responsibility to protect and preserve our natural resources and national patrimony from criminal exploitation and attack. What is happening in the Gulf of Mexico is a crime, not only against Nature but against the American people, our health and economic well-being, our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s hard to imagine Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Nature’s most fierce presidential advocate, and Harry Truman, who bucked prima donna generals, corporate scofflaws and epitomized the can-do progressive Democratic creed of “the buck stops here,” ever tolerating BP’s actions. If they sat where you sit now, they’d come out swinging, demand swifter action, twist arms at BP, and take concrete steps to seize control of BP’s operations, federalizing them on behalf of the American people. It’s inconceivable, given their action-oriented presidential character, that they would behave otherwise.

The Republican corporate shills and Big Oil agents are complicit in this crime, having pushed deregulation to the very limits of negligent ineffectiveness. Only days before the BP oil spill, Republicans still railed against a “government takeover” of financial institutions as Democrats passed financial regulatory reform; they howled against a “government takeover” of the healthcare industry as Democrats passed healthcare reform; they wailed against a “government takeover” of the auto industry as Democrats saved our nation’s manufacturing base, enabling Ford to thrive and GM to profit for the first time in more than a year. Now, amid the disaster and devastation wrought by Republican-sanctioned deregulation, Senator Lamar Alexander, who had only recently howled that “increasingly, the majority seems to be doing what they did on health care now to Main Street. It looks like another Washington takeover,” had this to say on Face the Nation:
Alexander: “There’s one thing [the administration] could do. Under the law, they could fire BP and take it over. But the truth is the federal government probably doesn’t have the capacity to do that. [...]”

Q: “But would you favor taking over BP if that became necessary?”

Alexander: “Sure. That’s up to the President to decide…Under the law the federal government can take it over if they choose. And I understand why they might not choose, but that option exists.”

“Sure,” says Lamar without a hint of shame at his 180-degree turn, two-faced Republican to the last. Staring into the black abyss of an ecological tragedy suddenly he says, “the government can take it over if they choose.” I wonder if message guru Frank Luntz gets paid by the frequency with which his buzzphrase “government takeover” is uttered by his clients. But the truth of the matter is, as in 1932 and 1992, Democrats are once more given the responsibility to clean up the damage done to this nation by Republicans. David Axelrod may have apologized for “doing this to [you]” (getting you elected), but the truth is, Mr. President, the ball is now in your court and the American people expect you to act decisively in this crisis.

Long after you’ve left office, for how many more decades will our coastal economy and our fisheries be ruined, for how many generations will our fragile natural habitat and coral reefs, a thriving source of life to so many species of marine animals be irreparably damaged, before you emerge from your Carterite hand-wringing malaise and take decisive executive action? The American people are waiting for presidential action, with all the powers attendant as leader of the world’s vanishing superpower to end the rampant crime against Nature and the United States of America now raging in the Gulf of Mexico.

The spectacle of public enemy No. 1, BP CEO Tony Hayward, shedding crocodile tears while bearing witness to his crime on a beach stained with BP’s oil greed and criminal negligence was surreal. The time is fast approaching that a seizure of BP’s assets and criminal prosecution of its top executives becomes more than an option. Absent federal government action, Mr. Hayward should think twice about setting foot on American soil and walking about like a colonial Maharajah, lest a citizen who is being economically decimated by BP decides to make a citizen’s arrest.

The spectacle of BP agent Senator Mary Landrieu making specific assertions, unconfirmed by either BP or the feds, that if affected persons earned $50,000 or a company $1 million pre-spill BP would cut them a check for that amount, is the height of insensitivity from a politician who will say anything to protect her oil patrons. BP has repeatedly made the legalistic qualification that it will repay only “legitimate” claims. Care to share with us BP’s (and your) definition of what constitutes a “legitimate” claim, Senator?

The likelihood is that many of the claims will end up in court, and be tied up for years by BP’s attorneys and deep pockets. From the very beginning, BP has lied about its responsibility and the size of the spill; now we’re supposed to take their word that the people of the Gulf states will be made whole in a timely fashion? The last claims derived from the Exxon Valdez were settled only last year. That’s 21 years for recovery. That’s the average small claimants’ livelihood and a good portion of their peak earning years.

Mr. President, it has become abundantly clear to the American people and to friendly media observers (Fox and the Republicans might be your best friends now, given their ties to Big Oil) that, in your insular White House surrounded by aides giving upbeat technocratic daily briefings of their efforts to supervise BP’s inept and unacceptable actions to stem its enormous crime, you have lost sight of the bigger picture. As one astute political observer said, you “just don’t get it.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s repeated assertion that the feds will keep “the boot on the throat of BP” until it fulfills its responsibility to the American people for this oil spill has become a bitter laughingstock in light of BP’s refusal even to heed EPA directives and switch to a less toxic dispersant than Corexit. And then we hear of regulators issuing drilling permits after Salazar’s directive that they stop, giving rise to speculation that the left boot of the feds doesn't know what the right boot is doing.

EPA Director Lisa Jackson’s fawning Senate testimony before key environmental foe James Inhofe, as he coached her on the biodegradability of the dispersants to state “for the record” that dispersants had “improved” since the Exxon Valdez spill -- a dubious claim once BP disclosed it was using Corexit, the same dispersant used on the Exxon Valdez spill rather than newer, less toxic chemicals -- was disgusting. Inhofe’s intent was to mislead the American people as to the toxicity of the chemical dispersant being used by BP, and Jackson was a collaborator.

Days later, after repeated alarms sounded by the media (ignored by the EPA) and then by Louisiana state environmental officials, Jackson finally, and belatedly ordered BP to cease using Corexit and switch to a less toxic dispersant. To date, BP has ignored EPA’s directive and has kept on using Corexit. This, weeks after the public interest media site ProPublica (linked by this blog) reported on Corexit’s long term toxicity to humans, including liver, nervous system, and reproductive disorders. Lisa Jackson is no Robert Kennedy Jr., that much is plain.

It is unbelievable that our government cannot bring the might of the military to bear on this disaster, commandeer every available technological resource, vessel, and aircraft worldwide, cooperatively whenever possible, by force if necessary, to resolve this crisis that is an assault not only on American sovereign territory but the entire planet. A state of war exists between the United States and British transnational corporation, BP, and it is incumbent on our government to take wartime measures to end this disaster. How can the nation that assembled the greatest invasion armada in history, on D-Day, be reduced to Nixon’s “pitiful, helpless giant” in the face of this catastrophe?

There is a cleanup solution that was reported in Esquire Magazine and broached by activist attorney Mike Papantonio:
There's a potential solution to the Gulf oil spill that neither BP, nor the federal government, nor anyone — save a couple intuitive engineers — seems willing to try. As The Politics Blog reported on Tuesday in an interview with former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, the untapped solution involves using empty supertankers to suck the spill off the surface, treat and discharge the contaminated water, and either salvage or destroy the slick.

Hofmeister had been briefed on the strategy by a Houston-based environmental disaster expert named Nick Pozzi, who has used the same solution on several large spills during almost two decades of experience in the Middle East — who says that it could be deployed easily and should be, immediately, to protect the Gulf Coast. That it hasn't even been considered yet is, Pozzi thinks, owing to cost considerations, or because there's no clear chain of authority by which to get valuable ideas in the right hands. But with BP's latest four-pronged plan remaining unproven, and estimates of company liability already reaching the tens of billions of dollars (and counting), supertankers start to look like a bargain.
Only now, two weeks after the supertanker solution was reported is it being seriously considered by BP. This is where the federal government should have been proactive, doing what BP cannot do, mobilizing the supertankers and prepositioning them for rapid utilization:
The Politics Blog has learned that, over the weekend, BP's technical staff began to give serious attention to the supertanker strategy to attempt to recover some of the oil already in the Gulf of Mexico. … We also have learned that since the blowout in April, BP has received some 17,000 ideas for how to stop the flow or protect the coasts, and that it has taken the company considerable time to process the ideas, separating the good from the bad, the feasible from the impossible.
In addition to feasibility when it comes to implementing any of these ideas, BP is “bumping up against EPA concerns, NOAA concerns,” according to one BP official, who added that “BP can't put a boat in the water without Coast Guard approval.”
Between EPA, NOAA and the Coast Guard, it seems there isn’t a single decisionmaker in the federal response, who can cut through the red tape and say, “this is what we’re going to do.” The same can be said for allowing BP to use toxic dispersants banned in the UK -- reported here and elsewhere early into the spill -- for so long, inflicting incalculable damage on the fragile Gulf ecosystem before EPA Director Jackson reluctantly stepped in, only after complaints from Louisiana state officials and Democratic Congressmen and Senators sounding the alarm on Corexit, despite Senator Inhofe’s best efforts to keep it quiet.

Significantly, this information was available to the federal government in the media weeks –- WEEKS -– before the government finally considered the repeated, constant warnings on toxicity and proposed supertanker solutions with any degree of dispatch. It has not escaped notice that the Administration has come out against retroactive unlimited liability that would apply to BP, and that BP is a major fuel supplier for the U.S. military.

Who is calling the shots in this crisis, BP or the feds, is the question people are beginning to ask.

President Obama, your legacy is in the balance. Like it or not, history will judge the ultimate failure or success of your presidency by how you responded to this unfathomable disaster. It is your solemn responsibility to protect our nation and to put an end to this crime against Nature and the American people, and bring those responsible to justice. You’ve said before that you studied your predecessors, and sometimes hang out in the White House library reading their words for guidance and inspiration. In this environmental crisis, the most destructive man-made ecological disaster in our nation’s history, it’s perhaps fitting to read and commit to memory the words of America’s pre-eminent environmental president, Teddy Roosevelt:
The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life. … As a nation we not only enjoy a wonderful measure of present prosperity but if this prosperity is used aright it is an earnest of future success such as no other nation will have. The reward of foresight for this nation is great and easily foretold. But there must be the look ahead, there must be a realization of the fact that to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. The government has been endeavoring to get our people to look ahead and to substitute a planned and orderly development of our resources in place of a haphazard striving for immediate profit.

Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so. The mineral wealth of the country, the coal, iron, oil, gas, and the like, does not reproduce itself, and therefore is certain to be exhausted ultimately; and wastefulness in dealing with it today means that our descendants will feel the exhaustion a generation or two before they otherwise would.

Theodore Roosevelt's Seventh Annual Message to Congress Dec. 3, 1907.

“The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life.”

Jamestown, Virginia June 10, 1907

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful means, the generations that come after us.”

Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910

“It is entirely our power as a nation to preserve large tracts of wilderness...as playground for rich and poor alike, and to preserve the game...But this end can only be achieved by wise laws and by a resolute enforcement of the laws. Lack of such legislation and administration will result in harm to all of us, but most of all harm to the Nature lover who does not possess vast wealth.

Theodore Roosevelt excerpt from essay on Yellowstone National Park

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