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Rebecca Tarbotton

Rebecca Tarbotton

Posted: May 11, 2010 01:02 PM

BP Oil Disaster: A Crude Awakening for Washington

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In today's Senate hearings BP, and their contractors, Transocean and Halliburton, are testifying to determine who is exactly at fault for the close to 4 million gallons of oil wreaking havoc on the Gulf Coast. These three corporate giants should be held accountable for every mistake that has led to this disaster, and should bear full responsibility for cleaning it up. However, what is happening off the Gulf Coast now is about much more than one terrible accident or a few reckless companies who made mistakes.

When it comes to the politics of Big Oil and its impact on our environment, our economy and our climate, we're not talking about one bad apple we're talking about a whole barrel of bad apples.

Which is why activists with the Rainforest Action Network joined BP, Transocean and Halliburton in today's Senate committee hearings. Holding signs that read, "Big Oil profits, we pay" and with black, oily tears painted on their faces, activists were there to remind our decision makers that the underlying cause of this disaster is our dangerous and dirty addiction to oil as well as Big Oil's slippery influence on politics, which is undermining our nation's transition to a clean energy future.

Senator Cardin, who is co-chairing one of today's hearings, put it perfectly in the Baltimore Sun:

"The catastrophic oil spill ravaging the Gulf of Mexico and bearing down on coastal states is another reminder: America's current energy policy is a disaster. We need to break our dangerous addiction to oil and promote safe and clean sources of power and fuel -- and we need to begin today."

He took the words right out of my mouth -- America's current energy policy is a disaster. Big Oil and King Coal assert tremendous power in Washington, operating unchecked and unregulated, and wreaking havoc on our environment, public health and our climate. The oil spill in the Gulf is a tragedy, but it is not the only horrifying dirty oil disaster local communities are facing. From the devastating tar sands projects in Alberta to the oily mess Chevron left in Ecuador, across the globe the price of oil is too high.

Washington's response to the disaster in the Gulf cannot be limited to holding hearings and cleaning up the spill (although both are critical at this point). We must set our country on a course to fundamentally change how we produce and consume energy so we can end our dependence on oil and other dirty and dangerous fossil fuels once and for all.

With climate and clean energy legislation at the forefront of political debate, it is critical that we heed the larger lessons of this disaster. For starters, here is what I would suggest:

  1. We must separate oil and state. Oil companies need to get out of the way of good government, and stop lobbying against necessary clean energy policies. And, perhaps more importantly, our politicians need to stop taking money from Big Oil, which is clouding their ability to regulate this dangerous industry and is one influential reason they have been unable to pass strong energy policy.
  2. Oil companies must pay up for all the damage they have done to date. While we transition to a clean energy economy, oil giants like BP, Exxon and Chevron {www.changechevron.org} and their mercenaries-for-hire like Halliburton and Transocean must be held accountable for their role in environmental disasters and regulated more closely. History has taught us that Oil giants won't take responsibility willingly. In 1989, Exxon-Mobil dodged cleanup costs for the Exxon Valdez spill. Chevron is still fighting to avoid responsibility for the billions of gallons of oil-contaminated waste that were dumped into the Amazon watershed by Texaco, now owned by Chevron. Let's make sure that BP isn't allowed to follow in that dirty legacy.

Voters get it. In light of the oil spill, voters, one recent poll suggests, have come to understand the dangers of our dependence on oil and the need for comprehensive clean energy reform. Overall, 61 percent of 2010 voters support and just 31 percent oppose a bill "that will limit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy."

Let's just hope Washington gets it too. Because clean, safe and renewable are three words the oil industry cannot say.