My big sister M’Liz sent me an email the other day. “I am surprised,” she wrote, “that Lies.com has not addressed the oil spill in the Gulf.” I guess she has a point; it’s the kind of thing I would normally say something about. I’ve been following the news (like everyone). The May 11 Senate hearing where executives from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton pointed fingers at each other was certainly a lies.com moment.
Since then there has been a parade of spin and counter-spin, with events in the Gulf providing an ongoing (and depressing) fact-check, culminating most-recently in the “top kill” failure, with Obama pronouncing the news “as enraging as it is heartbreaking.”
I’d like to talk to my brother-in-law Steve (M’Liz’s husband) about all this, partly because he works as a safety engineer for BP, and partly because he’s a really honest, decent, thoughtful kind of guy. But I haven’t had a chance to talk to him.
Joe Romm at Climate Progress reposted an interesting item today (I think it was originally written by Craig Severance, but it’s not completely clear to me which parts are Romm’s and which are Severance’s). Anyway: What will it take to end our oil addiction?
I also enjoyed reading self-described “modern day Thoreau” Barbara Tomlinson’s write-up of the training she received from BP as an oil-spill cleanup worker: Emergency vs. Post-Emergency.
Update: Also entertaining, in a depressing kind of way: Fishgrease: DKos Booming School.
Closer to home, I’ve been working as part of the effort to defeat Measure J, the local oil-drilling initiative placed on the ballot by Venoco. Steve McWhirter, a neighbor of mine and would-be politician (he was narrowly defeated in a run for city council last election, and says he’ll run again in November), forwarded the following video to me. It shows Tim Marquez, the CEO and majority shareholder of Venoco, talking about why Measure J would be such a great deal for Carpinterians:
I think Marquez is probably a more or less decent guy, and that he honestly believes that what is good for Venoco (and himself) is good for Carpinteria. But as with my previous fisking of his ad in the local paper, I think he’s making misleading statements in an effort to get low-information voters to support the initiative.
The biggest issue I have with the video is when Marquez talks about environmental review. He says that even if Measure J passes, his project will still need to undergo “the same environmental review process” it would have faced without Measure J. That’s simply not true. Yes, there are a number of agencies that would need to approve the project either way. But if Measure J passes, the project will bypass the city’s review, as well as any oversight and mitigation measures the city might have imposed. That’s pretty much the whole point of Measure J.
When Marquez talks at 13:10 in the video about the “misperception out there; some of it’s intentional, some of it’s accidental” concerning the effect of Measure J on the environmental review process, he’s being disingenuous. Marquez has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to create the misperception in the minds of voters that Measure J will not let Venoco bypass environmental review. (Other arguments I’ve heard from Measure J supporters: Measure J would merely initiate the environmental review process, the environmental review by the city has already been completed, and the project described in the initiative is the same as the environmentally preferred alternative in the city’s environmental impact report. All untrue.)
I think it’s human nature that the farther away someone is, the less likely we are to rank their concerns ahead of our own. That plays out in various ways: The image of an oil rig burning can be awe-inspiring, even beautiful to look at, except that people were killed and injured in that fire, and for them, and for their families, that image is associated with horrible suffering and pain. Should I not look at it?
Tim Marquez, and Venoco’s contractors (like Steve McWhirter) are just trying to put food on the table and help themselves and their families get ahead in the world; should I really be willing to tell them no, they don’t get to rewrite the city’s planning laws to place their own interests ahead of those of the community, generally?
M’Liz mentioned something else in her email to me. She said that the ongoing disaster in the Gulf might at least contain “some good news for Carpinteria in a small way,” in terms of the impact the story will have on the Measure J vote. I’ve heard the same thing expressed, quietly, by people in the No on J campaign. I confess there is a part of me that, while not actually rooting against BP in their efforts to stop the undersea gusher, takes a measure of grim satisfaction in their failure: See? That’s what I was talking about. You can’t trust these companies. It’s a reaction that reminds me of the emotional response I had while tracking the Iraq war body count: I hated the lies that led us to war, and sympathized with the victims on both sides, but there was still an element of satisfaction in seeing it go so wrong. See? That’s what I’m talking about. You can’t trust these politicians.
I’m not defending that reaction. I’m appalled that I feel it. It’s wrong. But it’s part of me.
I wish the Deepwater Horizon blowout never happened. I know that any impact it has on the politics of a little town 2,000 miles away is completely insignificant compared to the suffering it is causing, and will continue to cause, for those who are closer to it, for many years to come.