The Gulf oil crisis continues to grow with no end in sight. The numbers are staggering: more than 1,000 dead birds, another 300 or so dead sea turtles, more than 85,000 square miles of Gulf closed to fishing, 150 miles of coast and wetland soiled with oil, 40 million to 80 million gallons of oil wreaking havoc on the Gulf ecosystem and well over $5 billion in liability for BP and the gang.
Inexplicably, blame for the ongoing blowout has stuck to President Obama like crude on a pelican's wings. It isn't fair, but the consequence is still potentially devastating.
A few words of advice for the administration from a member of the environmental peanut gallery:
Declare an emergency in the Gulf so President Obama can use magnified executive powers. The Gulf is a disaster and needs to be treated like one. The damage may not have been as sudden as that caused by the earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Katrina, but the long-term impacts will be no less devastating.
Force all of Big Oil to pitch in. Right after the disaster declaration, President Obama should call in all of the CEOs of the big oil companies and make it damn clear that they are expected to volunteer their spill response resources, expertise and equipment to the cause of cleaning up and stopping the spill. There should be as many Exxon, Shell and Chevron staff out there as BP execs doing their part to save the Gulf economy and ecosystem. If Valero has the time and money to get California's climate change law suspended via a proposition this November, it surely has tens of millions in resources to volunteer towards spill cleanup. We want to see hazmat trained professionals cleaning up the spill, not unemployed fishermen and hotel workers.
Change the face of the federal response. Lisa Jackson is telegenic, bright, articulate, a Princeton graduate in chemical engineering, a specialist in toxics, and a Louisiana native! What more can you possibly ask for? Oh yeah. She runs the agency with the most oil spill and pollution response expertise: the EPA. A Hollywood casting call wouldn't give you a better candidate to lead the cleanup effort. The buddy team for 2010 should be Lisa J. and Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. The public doesn't want to see anyone from the MMS. Jane Lubchenko and the NOAA folks are mainly needed to trot out the latest scientific findings. And the other secretaries and special assistants just aren't as reassuring to the public as Jackson. Stick a Saints hat on her head, give her some real authority beyond regulating dispersants, and let her lead. She will not disappoint.
The Gulf coast locals need to be compensated because their livelihoods have been stolen from them. They shouldn't have to suffer while waiting for years for a court settlement with BP. Just as the administration and the entertainment community teamed to raise money for earthquake, tsunami and hurricane victims, there needs to be a major effort to raise money for the fishermen and tourism workers that lost their jobs or got sickened by oil exposures. The workers that are toiling round the clock to save oiled wildlife also need our support. Get the Saints, Chris Paul, Emeril, Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage out there raising money for poverty relief and wildlife rescue. The American public is peerless in its generosity during a disaster. We just need a place to give with the knowledge that our donations will be used wisely.
Although none of these common-sense actions will stop the BP blowout, all of them will result in reduced human and ecological impacts. They also will put government squarely in front of the public as the resource that can deliver at our greatest time of need.