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Thursday, May 20, 2010 12:41 am

What a holy mess our oil addiction is causing

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Luckily, as our country tries to cope with another oozing oil disaster, we have political leaders with the insight, expertise and cool heads to analyze the problem precisely and guide us to rational long-term solutions. For example, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Known as the Sage of Paint Creek, Texas, this towering intellect was among the right-wing politicos who were noisily demanding deregulation of all offshore drilling only two years ago, chanting “Drill, baby, drill!”

Now, even though BP’s offshore rig, Deepwater Horizon, has created an ecological catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, Perry is still defending the industry’s always-messy practice of extracting ever-more crude from the earth’s depths. The culprit in this disaster, explained the guv, is not BP but the Almighty. “From time to time,” he informs us, “there’s going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented.”

Hmmm. So, God is the one who exploded BP’s rig, killed 11 workers, shut down the livelihoods of countless Gulf fishing families and spread a deadly, still-gushing slick of oil across four states. Wow, that’s one mean God!

But wait — it wasn’t God whose insatiable thirst for profit put a risky oil-pumping contraption afloat on mile-deep water and sank a pipe four miles into the Gulf floor. BP executives did that. And they also were the ones who decreed from on high that there was only a one-in-a-million chance of anything going wrong. Scoffing at all who objected, they pointed out that Deepwater Horizon was a state-of-the-art rig. Perfectly safe, they crowed. Trust us.

Unfortunately, Washington did. This massive spill is neither an accident nor an aberration. For the past 30 years, leaders of both parties (generously lubricated by industry campaign cash) have enthusiastically embraced laissez-faire ideology, imposing the oxymoron of “voluntary regulation” on our country and spreading the industry myth that offshore drilling is practically pristine. Even Barack Obama recently declared that “oil rigs today don’t generally cause spills.”

 You wish! He should check the files of the speak-no-evil federal agency that supposedly regulates oil corporations. There, he could see records of 1,443 serious drilling accidents in offshore operations just from 2001 to 2007. These failures caused 356 spills, 302 injuries and 41 deaths.

Among the oil giants, the worst performer on health, safety and environmental issues is none other than BP. It has been cited repeatedly for “willful” safety violations that have led to spills, explosions, contaminations, injuries and deaths. The reason for this is a culture of carelessness from the top that keeps demanding cost-cutting and shortcuts to increase corporate growth and profits.

Indeed, BP (which soaked up $5.6 billion in profit in just the first three months of this year) decided against installing a remote-control shutoff switch on the Deepwater Horizon well in order to save $500,000. By the way, if you’re an aficionado of irony, here’s one for you: When this rig blew up on April 20, seven BP executives were on board it for a ceremony hailing the project’s safety record! All seven were injured, but survived.

Following a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at another BP facility, the corporation’s own handpicked review panel concluded that executives “skimped on (safety) spending” and “had not learned from a long string of past accidents.” Far from learning, BP has been a leader in creating today’s indulgent federal regulatory climate of allowing the industry to police itself. As recently as last September, BP officially (and successfully) opposed additional safety requirements on these inherently explosive offshore rigs, arguing instead for “voluntary programs.”

Volunteerism is a mandate for “Spill, baby, spill.” What BP’s latest disaster teaches us is not only that these profiteering giants must be strictly regulated, but also that America must aggressively — urgently — expand our nation’s transition to renewable energy. Our addiction to oil is killing us.

As an old Texas saying puts it, “When you’ve dug yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is quit digging.” To help get our country out of its oil hole, connect with: greenforall.org  

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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