Oil in Aspen

The Aspen Institute and the National Geographic Society kicked off the 2010 Aspen Environment Forum Sunday night with a lively discussion of the Gulf disaster. The timing of the forum, which always focuses on climate and renewable energy issues, has definitely cast an air of pessimism here. After all, the announcement from the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration that a climate bill will have to wait for another year at a minimum was extremely disappointing news for the environment and the green energy sector. The tragic loss of Stanford climate change icon Steven Schneider also put a damper on the evening. National Geogrpahic editor in chief Chris Johns correctly credited Schneider as the most persuasive and credible climate change scientist in the country.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, actor and New Orleans activist Wendell Pierce, journalist Joel Bourne, and Shell Oil exec vp deep water drilling John Hollowell comprised the Gulf panel. Tulane president Scott Cowen moderated deftly.

Jackson offered her unique observations from the Gulf and Washington, D.C. As a native New Orleanian, she emphasized the resiliency of her fellow Gulf residents and their incredible optimism in the face of yet another national disaster. She spoke about EPA’s efforts to monitor air, water and sediment and to work with the community on oil spill impact issues and responses. She also took pride in the Administration’s efforts to get $20 billion from BP and she was pretty candid about  her disappointment in BP’s handling and frequent mischaracterization of the crisis.

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Emergency Urgency

EPA chief Lisa Jackson should be leading the cleanup effort.

The Gulf oil crisis continues to grow with no end in sight. The numbers are staggering:  more than 1,000 dead birds, another 300 or so dead sea turtles, more than 85,000 square miles of Gulf closed to fishing, 150 miles of coast and wetland soiled with oil, 40 million to 80 million gallons of oil wreaking havoc on the Gulf ecosystem and well over $5 billion in liability for BP and the gang. Inexplicably, blame for the ongoing blowout has stuck to President Obama like crude on a pelican’s wings. It isn’t fair, but the consequence is still potentially devastating.

A few words of advice for the administration from a member of the environmental peanut gallery:

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Paradise Lost

Enough Inhofe: Senators need to start thinking less about the welfare of the petroleum industry.

Today marks the one-month anniversary of the Gulf oil spill.  What are you doing to celebrate? On Tuesday, U.S. Sen James Inhofe, the infamous climate change denier, decided to give BP a $9.925 billion dollar gift by opposing the effort to raise the oil spill liability cap to $10 billion. That sure beats a Starbucks gift card. 

Inhofe’s bogus argument (similar to Alaska Sen. Murkowski’s excuse last week) is that increased liability cap would penalize small, mom-and-pop oil companies. (Are there any?)

Wake up Congress!! There shouldn’t be a liability cap at all!!  If the oil spill causes damages, then the companies responsible must be forced to pay the entire cost of cleanup. This seems fair and equitable. Our representatives need to start thinking about natural resources and economic damages rather than the welfare of the petroleum industry.

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A Torrent of Advice

If you thought the Gulf spill was bad, just wait for the next Arctic disaster. Failure is inevitable.

I’ve held back on providing commentary on the Gulf oil spill. After all, the story has led the news for two and half weeks and every newspaper seems to have an Op-Ed on the topic every other day. Besides, I didn’t want to write a raving anger piece laced with numerous F-bombs and other expletives.

Many have commented that the spill should get President Obama to retract his misguided support of drilling off the mid-Atlantic seaboard and exploratory drilling off of northern Alaska in the Beaufort Sea. This is a great idea and the most obvious of recommendations in the wake of the ongoing Gulf disaster.

Many have demanded a moratorium on new offshore oil drilling exploration in U.S. waters. Yet McClatchy News reported that the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded April 20.

That’s not exactly consistent with the temporary moratorium that the administration announced shortly after the beginning of the blowout. If the National Environmental Policy Act ever needed to be followed to the letter for oil drilling, now is the time.

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