Oil Rig Sinks, as Does Senate Climate Bill

Two disasters flared up this week, one environmental, the other political. Off the coast of Louisiana, oil from a sunken rig is leaking as much as five times faster than scientists originally judged, and the spill reportedly reached land Thursday night. And in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) jumped from his partnership with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) just before the scheduled release of the draft of a new Senate climate bill.


The trio had worked for months on bipartisan legislation on climate change. After Graham’s defection, his partners promised to press on, but the bill’s chances of survival are dimmer.

The next Exxon Valdez?

As Grist puts it, the spill off the Louisiana coast is “worse than expected, and getting worser.” The oil rig sank on April 20, and since then, oil has been pouring out of the well and into the Gulf of Mexico.

British Petroleum (BP), which operates the rig, along with the Coast Guard and now the Department of Defense, has pushed to contain and clean up the spill. The problem is deep under water and difficult to measure, but by mid-week, experts estimated that it was gushing 5,000 barrels a day from three different leaks.

Interior department officials said the spill could continue for 90 days. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum looks at a couple of estimates for how much oil could end up in the Gulf and concludes, “An Exxon Valdez size spill might only be a few days away.”

The federal government has rallied to respond. Administration officials have traveled to Louisiana, and  both the executive branch and the legislative branch have announced investigations into the spill. But, as Care2 writes, the White House is saying that the explosion should not derail plans for future drilling.

“In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, according to Care2.

New drilling, no regulations

Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced that the government would open up areas off the East Coast for offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposal already had some opponents, and the spill makes the politics of new drilling that much trickier. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner acknowledged the issue, along with energy experts around Washington.

“This reopens the issue: Is the risk worth the reward?” Lincoln Pratson, a professor of energy and environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, told Sheppard.

And even though BP is relying on the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense for help managing this spill, the company is pushing back on efforts to minimize those risks, Lindsay Beyerstein reports for Working In These Times.

The company “continues to oppose a proposed rule by the Minerals Management Service (the agency that oversees oil leases on federal lands) that would require lessees and operators to develop and audit their own Safety and Emergency Management Plans (SEMP),” Beyerstein writes. “BP and other oil companies insist that voluntary compliance will suffice to keep workers and the environment safe.”

Climate bill catastrophe

The country might also have to rely on companies’ “voluntary compliance” with measures to combat global warming: Congress doesn’t seem likely to pass a bill regulating carbon any time soon. Sen. Kerry and friends were supposed to release their version of climate legislation Monday, but over the weekend, Sen. Graham backed out. His reason? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had floated the idea of prioritizing immigration reform, which Graham argued would undermine work on energy legislation.

“It seems like the senator…has a bit of an attitude problem,” wrote The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana. “He storms out of climate talks because Democrats have dared consider working on two things at once? The degree to which movement in the Senate hinges on this single, mercurial senator, seemingly the only one whose agenda includes something more than stymieing Democrats, is remarkable.”

Call the clean up crew

After Graham’s announcement (Arana called it a “hissy fit”), congressional democrats scrambled to prove that the climate bill was not knocked entirely off course. On Monday, Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman met with their wayward colleague; by Wednesday, Sen. Reid had promised that he would “move forward on energy first;” and by Thursday, Kerry and Lieberman had asked the EPA to start evaluating the bill’s environmental and economic impacts.

Although a draft of the bill was supposed to come out on Monday, no one has seen it. At Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard reports that even the EPA, which is supposed to analyze the bill, hasn’t received the full draft.

“According to the EPA, the senators submitted a “description of their draft bill” for economic modeling,” she writes. “The agency confirmed in a statement to Mother Jones the senators “have not sent EPA any actual legislative text.” The agency is determining whether it has enough information about the bill to produce an analysis of its economic and environmental impacts.”

Despite assurances from the Senate leadership, it’s not clear if climate legislation will come to the floor this year or, if it does, that it will pass.

Not a disaster

There was one bright spot of news for environmentalists this week: the United States will build its first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. The project, called Cape Wind, has a host of opponents, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided to approve it. The scale will be smaller than originally planned—130 rather than 170 turbines, the Washington Independent reports—which could mollify critics who worried about its visual impact.

Cape Wind is a prime example of how clean energy projects can still cause harm or anger the people who live in their shadow. The Texas Observer recaps opposition to clean energy projects: A working-class neighborhood fought against efforts to build a biomass plant in their town, and won.

“Despite some activists touting these projects as solutions to global warming, and politicians promoting them as the key to economic prosperity, renewable energy projects tend to have their own sets of problems for local residents,” reports Rusty Middleton.

Biomass is one thing: burning materials like waste wood might produce fewer greenhouse gasses, but a biomass plant still dirties the air around it. But if the choice is between an off-shore wind farm that could mar a pleasant vista or an off-shore drilling operation that could spill gallons of oil onto your coast, it seems clear which is the better option.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.   This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Help prevent another oil spill disaster. Ask President Obama to reconsider offshore drilling.

by NASA Goddard via Flickr/Creative Commons
by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger


Daniel M.
Past Member 7 years ago

Planting only 6 percent of the continental United States with biomass crops such as hemp would supply all current domestic demands for oil and gas.
Did you know the average American spends 33 of 40 working hours to support their need for energy? It's true; 80 percent of the total monetary living expense for everything we do is ultimately wrapped up in energy costs; from the energy it takes to make the food we eat, to fuel for the cars we drive, to the manufacturing, storage and transportation of the products we buy. And 80 percent of solid and airborne pollution in our environment can be blamed on fossil energy sources. It is estimated that America has already exhausted 80 percent of its fossil fuel reserves.
Industrial hemp is the number one biomass producer on earth, meaning an actual contender for an economically competitive, clean burning fuel. Hemp has four times the biomass and cellulose potential and eight times the methanol potential of its closest competing crop - corn. Burning coal and oil are the greatest sources of acid rain; biomass fuels burn clean and contain no sulphur and produce no ash during combustion. The cycle of growing and burning biomass crops keeps the world s carbon dioxide level at perfect equilibrium, which means that we are less likely to experience the global climactic changes (greenhouse effect) brought about by excess carbon dioxide and water vapors after burning fossil fuels.


Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

I heard just this morning on NPR that Gov. Schwartzenegger has altered his position on offshore drilling around the California shorelines. He stated that the environmental devastation is not worth the risk. It is about time that those with the power make some rational decisions. But, why, for goodness sake, does it have to take a major catastrophe before anyone grows a spine and finally acts? This was a very expensive lesson in terms of both human life and environmental damage. Shame on us as a nation for being so myopic.

Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

On NPR today, a guest said that he has visited that area many times and that, with the plethora of drills in operation there, it is only a matter of time before another such incident occurs. This horrible catastrophe only underscores the reason we need to develop alternative fuel sources now.

By the way, have you noticed a quieting of the voices shouting "Drill, baby, drill" lately? Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all, was it Sarah?

Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

On NPR today, a guest said that he has visited that area many times and that, with the plethora of drills in operation there, it is only a matter of time before another such incident occurs. This horrible catastrophy only underscores the reason we need to develop alternative fuel sources now.

By the way, have you noticed a quieting of the voices shouting "Drill, baby, drill" lately? Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all, was it Sarah?

Harriet J. B.
Harriet B7 years ago

Did BP follow all safety procedures, or did they try to cut corners?

Heidi C.
Heidi L7 years ago

Thank you!
You already signed this petition at 9:02 am PDT, May 3, 2010.

Sandra D.
Sandra D7 years ago

Wel I gues if this goes on.... nobody will be eating fish...and there will be signs of ( NO SWIMMING ON EVERY COAST)

Judith H.

Because this can happen, has happened as we all know, we must not allow this risk to be taken again. There are too many elements that can fail, including human error and human greed, cutting costs with poor quality parts, non-compliance with correcting identified weaknesses, etc. Most anything humans do can fail. Remember the bridge in Minneapolis that fell? It has been reported that algae can be grown in New Mexico where there is lots of open land in the sun that would be sufficient to fuel the whole country. Why are we not throwing money at that? I have seen two special programs on PBS and the Green channel about this. Wealthy corporations want to control the fuel supply so they can stay rich. We must let other companies grow and compete, especially if their product is new, non-polluting, and affordable. It beats me why the right decisions, right for the people of this country, are rarely made. It always involves one of the few conglomerates and lots of money to help them get going. It is just wrong, plain wrong, and ticks me off.

Renee L.
Renee L7 years ago

Mary, I am not saying that you are not entitled to hate. It is just that as a conservative, I have been branded as a racist, bigot, hatemonger, fearmonger, and pretty much everything else you can imagine. As a conservative, I have every right to voice my opinion even if it does not agree with you, this site, the President, or anyone. IT does not mean that I hate anyone, or that I am a racist or bigot. It just means that I have a different opinion than yours no matter how stupid you think it to be.
Pamela, how in the world do you sleep at night with believing that we are on the verge of death? Seriously, I think you might want to tone down you fears a little, I am pretty sure we will be here and thriving 1000's of years from now. I have done a lot of research and have found that climatetologist have rigged their numbers and that they are false and totally inaccurate. They never included tempretures from Russia!! Not only that but Cap and Trade will NOT FIX ANYTHING!!! For you to believe otherwise you are rather naive and/or ignorant. That goes for the rest of you progressives who think cap and trade will fix anything. It will only line the pockets of crooked politicians like Al Gore and Obama.

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle7 years ago

It's times like these where we do the wrong thing claiming it to be good that I feel better about being middle aged. It's a really sad thought but with the supposedly liberal presidential administration still poised to open up our waters to offshore oil drilling when a huge, glaring, in-your-face example of why it's suicidal to continue shows you exactly how stupid it is, I count it a blessing that my years of having to watch my people commit suicide will not have to continue for too much longer.
I'm sorry for this depressing post. Normally I work hard to keep positive for our future and our childrens future but when you see something so horrible as this and once more our government insisting upon something even more horrible, well... it's just impossible to stay positive.
We know better. We've known better for decades. We see the impending doom. But like an acohilic, we continue 'drinking' the suicide solution.
I thank God everyday for the liberals and progressives. If it wasn't for them I don't know what I would do. Keep up the good fight guys.