Friday, May 28, 2010

Oily News That's Fit to Print: "The Federal Government is Fully Engaged"

Early in his term, President John F. Kennedy listened to CIA and military experts who assured him that their plan to invade Cuba, formulated in the Eisenhower administration, would liberate the island. The result was the Bay of Pigs disaster. Early in his term, President Obama is learning who he can trust--and who he cannot. He's learned one such lesson the hard way, in the Gulf oil gusher crisis. “Where I was wrong,” he said in his one hour-plus press conference Thursday, “was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios.”

The New York Times account noted the novelty and directness of his admission: "But the president’s concessions of missteps were striking. Admitting fault, after all, is not a common presidential habit, and happens only under great duress. The passive voice has been a favorite technique. President George Bush said “mistakes were made” during Iran-contra. President Bill Clinton said “mistakes were made” during campaign finance scandals. And President George W. Bush said “mistakes were made” during the firing of federal prosecutors."

But as well as admitting where he was wrong, President Obama pushed back on critiques he said were contrary to the facts. Though he was "angry and frustrated" about how the gusher situation has transpired, he said that the government has made “the largest effort of its kind in U.S. history” and was in charge of BP’s response. “Those who think we were either slow in our response or lacked urgency don’t know the facts,” he said. “This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred.”

While noting the disastrous contributions of BP and the regulatory agencies staffed by Bush-Cheney, he made something very clear going forward: “In case you’re wondering who’s responsible, I take responsibility,” Mr. Obama said as he concluded the news conference. “It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen right away or the way I’d like it to happen. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn’t be any confusion here. The federal government is fully engaged, and I’m fully engaged.”

Full transcript of the press conference here. It's worth reading--it answers a lot of questions the media and its screechers have raised. The President visits Louisiana on Friday.

Meanwhile, BP's Top Kill effort has been re-started after a long suspension. The more I hear about it, and about prior attempts, the less likely it seems that it will be successful. But if it is successful, it will be due mostly to the outside scientists assembled by the federal government who are advising on the procedure. Because oil companies have seldom succeeded with this technique, and never in water this deep.

In other Oily news that's fit to print, a federal team issued a new preliminary estimate of the quantity of oil gushing into the Gulf, at between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day, which would certainly make this the largest oil leak disaster in U.S. history.

A preview of the consequences of its extent as well as its nature as a deep ocean gusher, scientists believe they've discovered a huge toxic underwater plume of oil and chemical dispersants, six miles wide and more than 3,200 feet deep-- which is 3/5 of a mile.

Meanwhile, NOAA issued its official hurricane forecast for the coming season, which is in line with other scientific predictions: "The Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be a busy one that may spawn as many as 23 named tropical storms, including up to seven major hurricanes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. It predicted that 8 to 14 storms would strengthen into hurricanes, with winds of 74 m.p.h. or higher. Three to seven of those could reach Category 3 status or higher — meaning they bring sustained winds of at least 111 m.p.h. “The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall,” said Jane Lubchenco, the agency’s administrator. “In short, we urge everyone to be prepared.”

This adds yet one more potentially powerful factor to a situation that is unprecedented in several ways. No one knows how the poisoning of deep water will affect the ocean ecology, nor how much the oil will damage endangered species as well as the Gulf fish. Now no one knows how hurricanes will affect the oily waters. Perhaps drive oil to land. Perhaps disperse it faster. It's all beyond what we know, and all very much out of our control.

That's why you take care of the land and the waters in the first place. As President Obama noted today, growing up in Hawaii he learned that "the ocean is sacred." That's a lesson and an attitude that should be foremost, as well as deep in our values.

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