Given that global warming pollution has officially fallen from the agenda of the Senate, legislative proposals on the table to reduce the political, economic, and environmental impact of the oil industry provide an opportunity for Congress to slightly vindicate itself. On Friday the House passed legislation that finally removes special protections that oil companies have received for decades, such as limitation on liability for the damage caused by oil spills, exemptions from environmental review, and the ability to avoid US safety standards altogether. In light of the BP oil disaster, passage of these policies should be a forgone conclusion.
The Senate is expected to vote soon, maybe tomorrow, on it’s own package of policies in response to the Gulf disaster. The House passed the bill 209 to 193. With an astounding 30 Reps not voting, including 21 GOP, it is possibly a good sign for the Senate vote this week, as it may mean many conservative Representatives felt it politically impossible to vote no.
At the same time, it was not a disappointment, but a relief, that the Senate Majority Leader concluded the Senate should take a break from proposals to cap global warming pollution. It is shocking that this announcement to end the effort to solve the world's most dire and pressing problem comes with five months left in 2010. However, the Senate level of ambition to pass effective climate policy has waned from weak to damaging. With the gluts of industry giveaways, the latest bill drafts proposing a carbon cap exemplify that the legislative effort is carjacked by polluting industry lobbyists. If they have truly stopped trying for now, Congress must not think that they can simply pick up where they left off, because they are nowhere near producing legislation to overhaul America's economy to become modern, competitive, and sustainable.
This election season, members of Congress owe it to their children's future to use their campaigns to build momentum for energy policy that keeps the planet livable. What this Congress will have failed to produce is a set of policies that contains three broad elements that dissipated from legislative proposals in the Senate.
First, Congress must campaign for slashing global warming pollution in a manner that is fast and furious. We need to do whatever it takes. This is not about balancing the required efforts and bail outs of polluting industry. It is about taking deadly serious the pollution that made 2010 the hottest year on record. It is about stopping perverse subsidies that provide seven times more public funding for coal, oil, and gas than for renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal.
Second, Congress must campaign for significant financial assistance to help poor countries adapt to the devastating climate changes occurring already, and to develop cleanly, so that our efforts at home to protect the planet are not in vain. International climate financing is part of a fair and reasonable commitment from the United States, a wealthy country with the greatest historical share of global warming pollution, and is vitally necessary for achieving an effective global climate change agreement.
Third, Congress must campaign to protect and encourage the use of all existing tools for reducing global warming pollution, which includes laws they passed decades ago like the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act is the reason why the administration can now require long-overdue pollution abatement technologies for the nation's dirtiest smokestacks, and why efficiency standards for America's cars will not be pitifully behind requirements in China. Members of Congress who are serious about stopping climate catastrophe will provide encouragement and support for other public officials, such as in state legislatures, the EPA, and the White House, to act quickly on this global emergency.
While some news reports attempt to downplay the amount of damage that has been done, it's clear that the Gulf oil disaster is one of the worst environmental tragedies in US history. This catastrophe has also further revealed the extraordinary extent of the oil industry’s influence on our government. Many questions remain unanswered about government communications with BP and other oil companies, underwater oil plumes, impacts to marine wildlife, chemical dispersants, oil drilling safety regulation, and more.
We've submitted 27 Freedom of Information Act requests to multiple government agencies and two Public Records Act Requests to the offices of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. The scope of these FOIA requests were derived from our ongoing field research as well as tips from local activists and reporters.
The following is a list of the requests we've filed. In parentheses after each item is the agency with whom the request was filed (click on any of the agencies to view a PDF of the request).
- Details of any and all mammal spotter flights conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Gulf region (USFSW)
- Any and all chain of custody forms for deceased wildlife in the Gulf region (USFWS)
- Details regarding turtles being killed in controlled oil burns in the Gulf region (USCG, NOAA, USFWS)
- Details of U.S. Navy flights contracted for whale and dolphin sightings in the Gulf region (Navy)
- Details of any and all communications or information regarding any of 23 endangered or threatened species of concern in the Gulf region including sperm whales and sea turtles (NOAA, USCG)
- Details of any communications about “carcass collection facilities” in the Gulf region (USFWS)
- Details of any communications between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and BP concerning dead mammals or marine life in the Gulf region (USFWS)
- Details of Natural Resource Damage Assessment flights (USFWS)
Oil drilling safety regulation
- Details of communication between the United States Coast Guard and ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, and/or ConocoPhillips concerning the safety of oil rigs in the Gulf and/or the term “blowout preventers” (USCG)
- Details of communications between the Minerals Management Service and the Offshore Operators Committee Deep Spills Working Group. (BOEMRE)
- Details of any information concerning the 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf (BOEMRE)
- Details of all internal communications regarding the 23 blowouts that have occurred on oil rigs in the Gulf since 2006. (BOEMRE)
- Details of all communications between MMS staffers K. Stauffer and J. McCarroll who contributed to deepwater environmental assessments (BOEMRE)
- Communications with USGS staff member Keith A. Kvenvolden concerning natural oil seeps (USGS)
- Details of violations and inspections and the certification process of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port facility (USCG)|
- Internal communications within and between the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard and BP concerning directives on dispersant use and exemptions granted to BP by the Coast Guard (EPA, USCG)
- Details of the effectiveness of sub-sea dispersant application, how the Environmental Protection Agency has monitored BP’s use of dispersants, and the point at which dispersants have a greater environmental impact than leaked oil (EPA)
- Records of dispersant-carrying aircraft with specific call signs flying out of Stennis International Airport (FAA)
- Details of communications regarding BP employees or contractors and their authority or ability to police public lands (USCG)
Underwater oil plumes
- Internal communications from NOAA missions to search for underwater oil plumes (NOAA)
- Details of all meetings and correspondence between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and BP regarding underwater oil plumes (NOAA)
Communication Between Oil Companies and State Offices
- Details of any and all internal and external communications between Governor Bobby Jindal or any of his staff and the following companies: BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, and/or the American Petroleum Institute (Office of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal)
- Details of any and all internal and external communications between Governor Haley Barbour or any of his staff and the following companies: BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, and/or the American Petroleum Institute (Office of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour)
The Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise was in the Mediterranean Sea in June to help protect endangered bluefin tuna. © Gavin Parsons / Greenpeace
The reports coming out of Louisiana about cleanup workers and even local police helping BP enforce a media blockade have been nearly as frustrating as watching the oil spew into the Gulf without cease for almost three months (a hat tip is most definitely deserved here to Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland, who has been chasing this story all along and doing a great job of reporting what’s happening on the ground).
It’s in BP’s best interest to limit media access to oiled beaches and wildlife, as the more they can contain the truth about just how much damage has been done, the more they can limit their liability to pay for that damage later on. We released our ScamWow video last week to highlight this very sad and galling state of affairs.
|View more images of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.|
But BP is cracking down on public access more than ever, so we’re stepping up our efforts. The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is on its way to the Gulf for a three-month expedition to document the true impacts of the BP Deepwater Disaster on the Gulf’s marine life and unique ecosystems. This tour is especially crucial now because even if BP has finally capped the leaking well, the crisis will continue for some time, endangering wildlife and ecosystems, destroying the region’s fisheries, and affecting the ocean for decades to come. It’s important that we not let the focus shift away from the truly extensive catastrophe that is still unfolding in the Gulf, whether more oil is spewing out of BP’s well or not.
The Sunrise will leave Tampa, Florida during the week of August 9th and visit the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas before approaching the wellhead during the first month of the expedition. The crew aboard the Sunrise will be examining everything from the plankton on the surface to the subsurface plumes and the deep-sea corals on the floor of the Gulf.
The Arctic Sunrise is a 50-meter long, icebreaker ship that was purchased by Greenpeace in 1995. Since then, it has peacefully protested whaling in the Southern Ocean, documented climate change and glacier melts in the Arctic, and was the first ship to circumnavigate James Ross Island in the Antarctic, which was an impossible journey until a 200m thick ice shelf connecting the island to the Antarctic continent collapsed.
Throughout the expedition, the Arctic Sunrise will host independent scientists and researchers who will be looking for oiled marine mammals, turtles, fish, and sea birds. Charles Messing and Jose Lopez from Nova Southeastern University will be on board looking at sponges, which filter large quantities of water and are therefore useful for looking at sub-lethal impacts of oil and dispersants. We’ll announce other on-board scientists in the coming weeks.
So keep checking back on our blog for live interviews with our onboard campaigners and scientists, video and still photography from the Gulf, and an interactive, web-based Virtual Ship Tour that lets supporters come along for the journey. You can grab an RSS feed of our blog posts dedicated to the tour by going here: Greenpeace Gulf Oil Disaster Expedition blogs.
We’ll also be posting lots of ways you can help call for a moratorium on new offshore drilling and for Congress and the White House to come clean, get rid of campaign contributions from dirty energy, and stop subsidizing big oil and coal.
In the meantime, help us promote our Energy [R]evolution report, which shows how it’s possible to phase out fossil fuels and reach 96% renewables in our energy mix by 2050. The US consumes 25% of the oil produced globally but has only 3% of the world’s oil reserves. We will never drill our way out of being dependent on foreign oil. The only way for the US to achieve energy security and stop oil spills before they happen is to invest in its huge renewable energy potential.
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