Just as residents and fisherman are doing everything they can to prepare for the worst on the Gulf Coast, the Obama Administration appears to have spent the past week saying everything it could to prevent the catastrophe from reaching Washington.
Administration officials first went on the offensive this past Sunday, working the news shows to assure the public that decisive action was being taken.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazaar, speaking on Fox News this past Sunday said:
“It’s a massive oil spill and our campaign has to be to move forward and do all we can … Every effort is being made to stop the source right now … there has not been a minute of rest since this started.”
That memo apparently didn’t reach Tom Strickland, chief of staff at the Interior Department, who spent the days after the leak was first announced on a “work-focused” whitewater rafting trip with his wife in Colorado. According to ABC News:
One government official, asking for anonymity because of the political sensitivities involved, told ABC News that some Interior Department employees thought it was “irresponsible” for Strickland to have gone on the trip, given the crisis in the Gulf, which was fully apparent at the time he departed for the Grand Canyon.
When asked about Strickland’s trip, Interior Department spokesman Kendra Barkoff told ABC News that “the federal government has been all over this issue from day one in a unified coordinated response.”
Strickland left for his rafting drip the day after Salazaar announced that his department would use “every resource we can to support the massive response effort underway …” And it was an declaration that came almost three days after the oil leak was first reported.
It’s also not clear whether this “unified coordinated response” Salazaar spoke of means working with various wildlife and environmental departments, or the company responsible for the spill, BP.
A piece yesterday in the Washington Post reveals that the Obama administration gave BP an exemption from any detailed analysis of the company’s environmental impact. Indeed, BP’s lease at Deeper Horizen received a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act:
BP’s exploration plan for Lease 206, which calls the prospect of an oil spill “unlikely,” stated that “no mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources.”
While the plan included a 13-page environmental impact analysis, it minimized the prospect of any serious damage associated with a spill, saying there would be only “sub-lethal” effects on fish and marine mammals, and “birds could become oiled. However it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.”
Kierán Suckling, executive director of the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said the administration’s waiver “put BP entirely in control” of the way it conducted its drilling.
“The agency’s oversight role has devolved to little more than rubber-stamping British Petroleum’s self-serving drilling plans,” Suckling said.
How did BP get such preferential treatment? Barack Obama, it turns out, was the biggest beneficiary of BP’s campaign contributions. In an interview with Chris Matthews, Salazaar said that, since the explosion, “[w]e were stepping on the neck of BP to do everything we can do.”
But this may have been a two-step, with BP’s foot firmly planted on the wallets of Obama and other members of congress since the explosion. The company gave more than $2.5 million to federal candidates in the past 20 years with “the largest chunk of their money going to Obama,” according to POLITICO. BP announced today that it is attempted to lower a 98-ton steel containment dome over the leak, which is estimated to be spewing more than 60,000 barrels a day — up from the companies initial estimate of 5,000.
According to the AP, workers gathered to begin lowering a giant concrete-and-steel box over the blown-out oil well at the bottom of the sea in a risky and untested bid to capture most of the gushing crude and avert a wider environmental disaster.
“We haven’t done this before. It’s very complex and we can’t guarantee it,” BP spokesman David Nicholas warned.
The 100-ton containment vessel is designed to collect as much as 85 percent of the oil spewing into the Gulf and funnel it up to a tanker. It could take several hours to lower it into place by crane, after which a steel pipe will be installed between the top of the box and the tanker. The whole structure could be operating by Sunday.
The technology has been used a few times in shallow waters, but never at such extreme depths – 5,000 feet down, where the water pressure is enough to crush a submarine.
In the meantime, Florida and Louisiana residents have confirmed that oil from the leak has reached their coasts, threatening not only local wildlife but entire towns and industries:
“It’s all over the place. We hope to get it cleaned up before it moves up the west side of the river,” said Dustin Chauvin, a 20-year-old shrimp boat captain from Terrebonne Parish, La. “That’s our whole fishing ground. That’s our livelihood.”
During a visit to Biloxi, Miss., Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said of the containment vessel: “I hope it works. But we are still proceeding as if it won’t. If it does, of course, that will be a major positive development.”