07/27/2010 01:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

CON GAMES: Kevin Costner Dances With Oil

Aspen's own Kevin Costner doesn't get enough credit for trying to save the oil companies from themselves. The actor says he dumped $24 million into his oil-water separation technology, according to his presentation this week at the Aspen Environment Forum, "and that's after taxes"--so you figure he had to smile for the camera to the tune of $35 million-plus to make his Ocean Therapy Solutions come to life.

Why bother? Because Costner, after the Exxon Valdez fiasco, never wanted to see oil wash over our wildlife again. He hired 20 scientists and spent 15 years coming up with a deployable black box that could stop the problem when it happened and before it got worse.

"I thought industry would rush to my door," he said at the forum sponsored by the Aspen Institute.

Not so fast, Kemosabe. Costner, who won every major Academy Award for Dances With Wolves, was unable to penetrate either the oil companies or the obstructionist Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bureaucrats who insisted on a 5 parts per million oil concentration after the separation process, even as they allow toxic solvent into the Gulf with scarcely a thought.

After the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe--and after testifying in Congress--Costner finally has 13 of his machines at work in the waters of the Gulf. BP has ordered 32 of the suckers so far.

So why is Kevin Costner still a prophet without honor?

Part of it is the profit motive. At the end of the day Costner is not exactly giving away his money but pouring it into a real company that could make buckets of actual money some day. Nonetheless his pursuit of the cleansing technology now at work in the Gulf is driven by altruism and the memory of the soiled, helpless wildlife in Alaska after the Valdez spill. He deserves credit for all of the above.

Perhaps people of all political stripes would rush to his side were Ocean Therapy Solutions a nonprofit--but only the Warren Buffets of the world can afford to pump $24 million into a venture with no hope of return. We should also praise Costner for being willing to take the risk with his own money with little hope of a reward.

Actors not named Ronald Reagan are not about to change the world, but no one in Costner's generation--not even the politically conscious, like Warren Beatty--have had anywhere near the impact Costner might yet glean. With one hundred yards of marsh and wetlands being lost every minute in the Gulf, he deserves both our praise and our thanks.