Thursday, May 13, 2010

The First Victims

These are among the first known victims of the Gulf gusher: fish, turtles and brown pelicans (bottom photo) are turning up dead, and yesterday it was reported that six dolphins so far are among the dead. For the dolphins, it appears that the chemicals being spread in huge quantities to disperse the oil are as deadly as the oil itself.

Meanwhile, as quoted by Climate Progress, the Washington Post reported on House hearings: A senior House Democrat said that the blowout preventer that failed to stop an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of one of the devices that was supposed to close the flow of oil and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through joints that made up 10 percent of the drill pipe."

Climate Progress also quotes a Coast Guard Captain slams industry "self-certification" of BOP: "Manufactured by industry, installed by industry, with no government witnessing oversight of the installation or the construction."

And the rig flew the Marshall Island flag to further escape U.S. oversight.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

People to the Power

Joe Rahm and Climate Progress have scooped everyone else with a leaked version and preliminary evaluation of the American Power Act set to be introduced by Senator John Kerry and the other guy later today. The first reviews are good, and thanks to the Gulf oil gush, the chances of passage of some sort of energy bill are better than they've been in a very long time.

The specifics will be explained and debated for awhile, but providing resources and incentives for energy conservation and a clean domestic energy economy are likely to gain plenty of support, especially after all the "listening" (i.e. trading) that Kerry and the other guy have done while crafting this bill.

What's going to be harder to both explain and agree on will be the methods of capping and reducing heat-trapping gases. But the argument that needs to be emphasized, beyond saving the planet's future, is the need to do this in order to accelerate that clean energy economy. And a lot of folks don't think it's possible, at least in the short time that's necessary, without increasing the cost of dirty energy.

And it's necessary not just to head off the worst--the climate cataclysm becoming climate collapse--but to create capacity and competitiveness for clean energy internationally. Or else we'll eventually be buying our windmills and solar panels from China, if we can even afford them by then.

That's the conclusion for example of Europe's climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who is now advocating for a 30% cut in heat-trapping gases as Europe's unilateral goal, instead of the current 20%. She said the" 20% cut would not drive the clean energy innovation Europe needed. She said China was investing almost 10 times as much as the EU in plans for a low-carbon economy."

But European industries are resisting that goal, unless and until the U.S. makes the same move, or at least some move, as contemplated in this bill. It may take emphasizing economic self-interest to save the planet, but the argument may be a sound one.

Meanwhile, the Gulf: Amidst the circus of blame in Congress Tuesday, there was this disturbing suggestion about what's happening with the oil: that because of the chemical dispersants being used, it isn't so much that the oil is not coming onshore, but that it's not visible as oil slick, and that the oil is sinking, where it becomes toxic to marine life, but invisible to cameras and satellites. This Kos diary also suggests the possibility that it's headed for the Florida keys.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Political Winds

Apart from the apparently growing anti-incumbent trend--which has been building for at least a decade--there are a few other political wrinkles to note.

1. The defeat of veteran and very conservative Senator Bob Bennett of the very conservative state of Utah by presumably even more conservative GOPers backed by Tea Partiers was prompted, some say, by Bennett having worked with Democrats on a few legislative items. Is there going to be more of this extreme ideological purity? Yes. I think the theory of absolute oppositionism among GOPers in Congress is based on the idea that (as a NY Times poll indicated) voters identifying themselves as conservatives is the highest ever (38%) but identifying themselves as GOPers is very low (in the 20s%.) The theory is that the self-identified conservatives are Tea Party ideologues, and oppositionism is needed to bring them into the GOP. That's probably not reality-based but it does seem to be the operative GOPer strategy.

How it plays out politically remains to be seen. But if it is successful enough, it is not a trend that permits effective governing, by anybody. The Dems are likely to lose seats in Congress, and if they retain majorities it may not be by much. It might be a good time for voters to use their imaginations, and picture what absolute unyielding gridlock looks like in a time of mounting peril, before the federal government gets locked into it for two years or more. But that requires imagination to trump emotion, projection, denial etc., not usually a good bet. It did work in 2008, though.

To this trend of hardened extremes, there are however a few other interesting counter-developments.

2. President Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court has upset ideologues on both sides. Yet a discussion among legal experts who know her on the PBS News Hour suggests she has excellent personal and legal qualifications to be an effective Justice immediately. These folks have no doubt that her views are progressive. But the appointment is yet another indication of Obama's stubborn insistence on effective governance. (And yes, on ideological grounds, I would have preferred Diane Wood.)

And these two odd events, the significance of which remain to be seen, but they have a common element: the unlikely cooperation of opposites.

3. For the first time in the Obama Presidency, a substantive bill passed the Senate with bipartisan unanimity, by 96-0. And whose bill was this? Which Senator from the mushy middle could convince colleagues on both sides? None. The bill was a strong oversight bill to audit the Federal Reserve, force it to divulge the names of banks and other institutions it lended to during the economic emergency. The sponsor was the Senate's only professed Socialist and a party of one: Bernie Sanders. Moreover, a similar bill passed the House, sponsored by one of its most outspoken liberal Dems (Alan Grayson) and the libertarian GOPer Ron Paul.

4. Finally, the UK has a new government, comprised of a Tory (Conservative) Prime Minister and a Liberal Dem #2. Both made statements expressing their determination to put aside differences to work together for the good of the nation, currently in its own fiscal crisis. All I really knew about this election was that people at the BBC were really worried they would face massive cuts if the Tories took over from Labour. How this all plays out remains to be seen, and will be especially interesting in a country where the ideological difference between extremes is far smaller than in the U.S., and the culture of fact-based governance is greater.

But these last two suggest the possibility that effective governance can occur from the extremes, rather than from the middle. A novel concept, to say the least. And hardly a proven one. Stay tuned.

The Dome That Failed--and That's Not All

Things aren't any better in the Gulf, and they may well be getting worse. A growing collection of crippled equipment littered the ocean floor Sunday near a ruptured oil well gushing crude into the Gulf of Mexico, the remnants of a massive rig that exploded weeks ago and the failed efforts since to cap the leak, begins the NPR story on the failed dome attempt, and other weekend details.

Here's an interesting Internet wrinkle: while BP experts seemingly believed the dome might work, its failure and the reason for it was expected, by bloggers.

Yet the worst of it is very likely still to come. The oil continues to gush and to fill the sea, which winds so far have almost eerily kept offshore. The economic impact has begun, but that, too, could get a lot worse--raising oil and food prices potentially everywhere. Though it seems pretty early to speculate, I did hear one experienced observer suggest that this could be bad enough to bankrupt BP. If so, you can bet a lot of other folks are going to feel the pain first.

The environmental threat is apparently prompting voters to take a more serious look at energy policy. A pollster concluded: “not only do voters support a comprehensive clean energy bill by large double-digit margins, they also indicate their Senator’s vote could be an impactful re-election factor."

BP was getting a lot of criticism Monday, not only for being unprepared but for misleading everyone every step of the way during this crisis. There's apt to be more of that as Congress starts holding hearings. A more quietly expressed view (so far) notes the failure of Bush-era regulation and enforcement--the weakening of regs, the depletion of government regulators, the cosy relationship with oil companies (at least one safety mechanism was xed out by the Cheney energy commission) and the overall reliance on privatization. You won't hear the loudmouth GOPers on that one, but I hope the Dems can make that point.