08/03/2010 07:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Wounded Beast Strikes Back

"I saw that one of the heads of the beast seemed wounded beyond recovery -- but the fatal wound was healed! The whole world marveled at this miracle and gave allegiance to the beast." (Rev. 13:3)

The catastrophe at BP's Macondo drilling site in the Gulf of Mexico might have "seemed" to be a fatal wound to Big Oil, the most vicious of the carbon lobby's several heads. But in Washington, D.C., the illusion has been created that the temporary sealing of the well has miraculously healed this wound. Emboldened, the Republican Senate leadership, joined by a handful of oil Democrats, has acted to block Senate passage of legislation to reform offshore oil drilling and to hold BP accountable for the devastation it has wrought on the Gulf of Mexico. So cocky is the oil lobby in its ownership of our nation's capital that the tribute it demanded was that it actually be rewarded for the disaster it caused. Big Oil's demand was threefold:
  1. Retain liability limits that protect oil companies from paying their bills and pass them on to the taxpayers.
  2. Water down President Obama's moratorium on deep-water drilling, even though oil companies have yet to demonstrate it can be done safely.
  3. Increase the federal deficit by transferring off-shore oil royalties from the Treasury to states that ally with oil by permitting drilling off of their coasts.
And so cowed is the Republican party by its fealty to coal and oil that not a single Republican senator stood up to party leader Mitch McConnell. Not one senator in the minority insisted that the people of the Gulf of Mexico deserved and needed relief from Congress now.

"They also worshiped the beast and asked, 'Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?'" (Rev. 13:4)

Faced with this intimidation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been forced to postpone the vote on this very modest reform effort until after the August Congressional recess.

And so, carrying the biblical reference further, one worries whether we are at the verge of the moment when "the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire." (Rev. 16:8) Will global warming continue unaddressed, unchecked, and unhealed?

It's a depressing vision, to be sure. But return to Revelation. Later events take a different path. The beast is given power -- but for only another 42 months. (Rev. 13:5) The author warns against he who "deceives .... telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast" (Rev. 13:14) and assures us that "the beast you saw was once alive but isn't now... he will soon come up out of the bottomless pit and go to eternal destruction." (Rev. 17:8) So does this mean that we will yet pass on a clean-energy future? Or, as the author of Revelation reminds us, do we have to earn a bright future?

But enough of my nightmare. This is not the Apocalypse or the end of the world. It's just another petty example of a badly broken political system -- and of the reality of a fading industry,  forced to give up its power, lashing out at  and damaging everything around it. It's a sobering reminder that if we don't pay attention to governing ourselves, we will be governed by others -- and probably not the ones we would have chosen.

It's also a reminder that if we don't keep telling Congress that it works for us, then pretty soon it doesn't.