04/20/2011 10:44 pm ET Updated Jun 20, 2011

Frogs in Boiling Water

One explanation for inaction on climate disruption is that, like frogs in a slowly heating pot, we just don't notice it. But a year ago, the waters boiled -- with oil and gas, in the Gulf of Mexico, for months. But even though BP's Macondo blow-out was neither gradual nor subtle, we still seem incapable of protecting ourselves.

In the Book of Revelation, boiling oceans symbolize the end of time. In Washington, D.C., they're just an inconvenient blip in the news cycle.

Recent news stories highlighted an honest admission from the Department of the Interior that, even though it has resumed issuing exploration and drilling leases to oil companies, it can't yet make sure that they will drill safely. Three days ago, the New York Times reported:

Even those who run the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service concede that it will be years before they can establish a robust regulatory regime able to minimize the risks to workers and the environment while still allowing exploration offshore.

"We are much safer today than we were a year ago,' said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees the agency, "but we know we have more to do."

Nonetheless, lease they will and lease they are. Meanwhile, Congress has proven incapable of passing even the simplest reforms, such as requiring oil companies to pay for the damage their drilling accidents cause. In the heart of the oil patch, the Houston Chronicle laments:

Today marks the first anniversary of the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the U.S. Unfortunately, most Americans, including our politicians, are suffering from collective amnesia about that tragic event that cost 11 lives, destroyed thousands of jobs, polluted thousands of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico and damaged the economies of five states. As tragic as all those events were (some are still ongoing), media attention has moved on to the royal wedding, the next earthquake and, of course, breathless coverage of American Idol. At the same time, our politicians, especially those in Washington, have used the lack of media attention to abdicate their responsibilities to make offshore drilling safer; in fact, they are actively working to make it less safe, shocking as that seems.

Both the Republican leadership in the House and the oil industry are desperately trying to derail efforts by the Obama administration to strengthen its oversight capacity. House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa, who had conducted no oversight into how the disaster happened, marked the anniversary of the blow-out by accusing President Obama of an "assault on off-shore drilling" and a "retreat from efforts to achieve energy independence." Although the administration has already issued 10 new deepwater drilling permits, and Obama began a recent speech on energy policy with a call for increased oil drilling, Issa tweeted that the Gulf Coast is "reeling" because of Obama"s "job-crushing" energy policies.

A new report from the Institute for Public Integrity points out that the current leasing system causes the government to lease too much acreage to the oil industry, too soon, and for too little taxpayer return -- because the economic models used are rigged to favor the industry.

To make sure things stay that way, BP is back in the check-writing business -- not to the small businesses and homeowners whose lives were devastated by its recklessness, but to the Republican leadership in Congress whose protection it's eager to buy. In March, its first month back in lord-of-the-manor mode, BP bestowed $29,000 in campaign gifts -- almost all by maxing-out contributions to the House Republican leadership. More largesse, we can confidently expect, will follow -- and John Boehner didn't blink for a moment at taking $5,000, even though oyster fishermen in the Gulf are still waiting for their own meager compensation.