Month 7, Day 6: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water…

The Chicago Tribune (last seen as the site of a remarkably stupid column by Jonah Goldberg) ran an unremarkable AP story noting that oil is now found on the beaches in every state that borders the Gulf.

The spreading filth from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon is making its presence felt everywhere. Beaches are contaminated, ecosystems shattered, and clean-up workers are already experiencing health problems. If anything good comes of this debacle, it must be that Americans finally come to terms with the truth about oil: it costs too much.

Not only have we subsidized oil production, keeping prices artificially low for decades, but we deferred the cost of cleaning up after our fossil fuel use, assuming that some future generation will have the technology well in hand when the bill comes due. Alas, it turns out we’re the generation who’ll have to pay — and the technology never got developed, as BP’s nonexistent contingency plans confirm. With oil accumulating on beaches everywhere in the Gulf of Mexico, the evidence mounts in each day’s news: we must break our addiction to oil, or it will break us.

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 15: Don’t Get Mad, Get Madder!

I have a houseguest & I’m really tired. I just opened up this piece on Daily Kos, read it, got outraged, and wrote Ed Markey and Henry Waxman a letter asking them to get a little tougher on the gang of criminals who are obviously in charge of British Petroleum.

You should read that piece, too. It’ll make you mad. Maybe you should get mad — and write a letter to someone!

Dear Representatives Markey and Waxman,

We need to understand a few things about what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now. It is absolutely crucial that congressional hearings bring up some of the following questions:

1. Why is British Petroleum apparently giving orders to the Coast Guard — and why is the Coast Guard taking orders from BP? A recent CBS News clip documented an incident of local television journalists being turned away from taking photographs of dead and dying sea life, saying: “A boat of BP Contractors, with 2 Coast Guard officials on board, told us turn around under threat of arrest — explaining ‘This is BP’s rules — it’s not ours’ ” In my naivete, I had the impression that the Coast Guard worked for the people of this country, not a British-owned oil company.

2. Why is BP failing to do genuine cleanup work in threatened areas? Booms have been put in place in wildlife protection areas, but no follow-up or monitoring has been instituted. The result? The only thing actually being contained is bad publicity for BP. The oil, meanwhile, is killing birds, sea turtles, fish and dolphins, and it’s only going to get worse. Frankly, we need more bad publicity for British Petroleum.

3. Why is BP making cleanup contractors sign agreements not to talk to the media? This company blatantly ignored safety regulations, gamed the system to its benefit for decades, and now (through its own negligence and carelessness) poised to wipe out both unique local ecologies and unique local economies. They should not be in a position to dictate terms to their contract employees.

Reporters from the New York Daily News interviewed BP contractors, who took them to locations where dolphin carcasses were dead and rotting. The contractor interviewed said, “When we found this dolphin it was filled with oil. Oil was just pouring out of it. It was the saddest darn thing to look at. There is a lot of cover-up for BP. They specifically informed us that they don’t want these pictures of the dead animals. They know the ocean will wipe away most of the evidence. It’s important to me that people know the truth about what’s going on here. The things I’ve seen… They just aren’t right. All the life out here is just full of oil.”

4. Why is BP unable to handle calls from Gulf area residents? Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened, BP set up call centers to handle questions and concerns. But according to a Houston television station, they’ve over 200,000 phone calls have been received…but they go nowhere. People whose lives and communities are under terrible threat are made to think their messages are being formally documented when in fact they are not even written down by call center operators.

The overall impression of BP is one of a malicious and often criminal incompetence made possible by a feeble regulatory environment. While congressional hearings cannot get the oil back into the earth, they can be a big step towards ensuring that such a disastrous failure of regulation never happens again.

I’m hoping to see British Petroleum executives testifying under oath, with jail sentences available for any who are in contempt or who are proven to have perjured themselves. There is no need to be nice to these people; they’ve destroyed one of our country’s most important natural resources, and the full extent of the damage they’ve caused won’t be understood for years.

Their incompetence and criminality are yet another set of very good reasons to end our national dependence on oil; it makes these people wealthy and powerful, and they don’t deserve wealth or power — they deserve jail time.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 3: Disaster Spells O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y ?

This DK diary contains two fantastic essays by Bill McKibben and Adam Siegel. Go read it. And while you’re at it, read this. These two posts are what brought this letter bubbling up.

More personal than usual, but I’m starting to really take this stuff personally, y’know?

Dear President Obama —

I just read that in its opening addresses at the UN climate negotiations in Bonn, the United States never once mentioned a readiness to accept a binding agreement on carbon emission reductions.

Mr. President, I love my country.

Like you, I have lived abroad. When I first went to India to live, in the mid-1980’s, people asked me over and over again, “the Americans we meet are such wonderful people. Why is it that your government does such terrible things?”

That was during the Reagan years, and those of us with conscience were outraged by the behavior of our government. And all I could do was shake my head sadly, and say, “I know. It’s a terrible thing.”

When the U.S.negotiator states that the negotiation text which had been approved by every country in the world at Copenhagen ‘had no standing,’ I can only shake my head sadly and say, “I know. It’s a terrible thing.”

When my government’s negotiator promotes the Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement which takes seven degrees Farenheit of global warming as a given, I can only shake my head sadly and say, “I know. It’s a terrible thing.”

When I look at the consequences of that level of warming and realize that it will mean millions and millions of deaths due to food and water shortages, I can only shake my head sadly and say, “I know. It’s a terrible thing.”.

I know that it takes a long time to turn things around. I am not so naive as to think that wishing will make it so — but I still wish.

Bill McKibben said recently that the Deepwater Horizon disaster has offered you the perfect platform for a genuinely transformative approach. While the oil chokes the water and poisons all the life in the Gulf of Mexico, you must remind us all that fossil fuel is dirty. It’s dirty when you take it out of the ground, it’s dirty when you process it, it’s dirty when you burn it…and, of course, as it burns it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Dirty. With the ruined ecosystems of the Louisiana coast as a backdrop, you need to ask the American people, “Is this what you really want?” And you need to offer some alternatives. McKibben notes that his organization,, is planning a “Global Work Party” for energy conservation and efficiency on the 10th of October of this year. He concludes with this wish: “Let’s hope the president is up on the roof of the White House, hammering in the solar panels that Ronald Reagan took down.”

Mr. President, that’s my wish for you, too.

I wish for an America that embraces the idea of energy independence, that acknowledges its global responsibilities, that recognizes that the global engine of predatory capitalism is causing irreversible damage to the planet we share. I wish for an America where I don’t have to keep shaking my head sadly and saying, “I know. It’s a terrible thing.”

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 31: Too Tired To Write A Clever Headline

Hadn’t written to USA Today in a while, so I went over there and found an AP article on (surprise!) BP’s incompetence, which by now calls to mind a phrase from Ken Weaver’s Texas Crude: “Dick-fingered,” defined as “stupid with an undercurrent of malice” — or, put crudely, “what he can’t fuck up, he shits on.”

So I wrote ’em a letter.

Is anyone surprised that BP CEO Tony Hayward disputes scientific evidence of undersea oil plumes, or that he cites a study by his own company while refusing to disclose any details? It is by now glaringly obvious that British Petroleum had no workable contingency plan in the event of a catastrophic failure. Not one. Nada. Zip. Which raises the question: why entrust our nation’s energy future to a company that rewards incompetence?

In 1962, President Kennedy gave us a goal: put a man on the moon and bring him back safely, and seven years later Neil Armstrong’s small step became a giant leap for the world. It’s time for another giant leap: we need to get off fossil fuels entirely, and it needs to happen by 2030. The probability of more catastrophic spills and the certainty of devastating climate change starkly illustrate the necessity of ending our reliance on oil and coal.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 28: Looking The Other Way

FishOutOfWater has his usual mind-bendingly scary diary at Dkos. That motivated me to sit down, but what came out was a response to a New York Times article from a couple of days ago. It’s more in my “Oil and Coal Reward Evil, Stupidity and Irresponsibility” series. I will write something on the Arctic, perhaps tomorrow.

We learn once again that there were warning signs of the impending disaster on the Deepwater Horizon, but that they were ignored. This should surprise no one; the oil and coal industries have had a lot of experience ignoring the signs of impending disasters. The siren call of quick profit drowns out the voices of caution, care and conscience, leaving our nation’s energy economy under the control of forces motivated entirely by profit, unhindered by any sense of responsibility to the greater good. British Petroleum’s behavior has been shameful, yes — but the entire fossil energy sector has a history of rewarding shameful, callous and irresponsible behavior. If ecocidal oil spills, coal mine explosions, and terrifying increases in world temperature levels can’t persuade us to kick our fossil fuel addiction, then we too are ignoring the signs of a planetary emergency that will make the Gulf spill seem small.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 27: A Pair of Hobnailed Doc Martens?

A good dkos piece outlining a variety of environmental/climate action items prompted this letter to the POTUS.

Dear President Obama — I’m glad to hear you’re going to “keep a boot on B.P.’s throat” until they take care of their responsibilities. That’s a big collection of responsibilities: they have to close the oil gusher, clean up the mess and pay the claims of those who suffered loss. Why am I doubtful that British Petroleum will follow through?

Look at B.P.’s record. They evaded regulatory oversight and took advantage of the Bush-engendered culture of corruption at the Minerals Management Service. They ignored safety procedures at the Deepwater Horizon site. After the accident, they held rig workers incommunicado for many hours and forced to sign nondisclosure agreements before being released. They steadily underestimated the flow of oil from the leak on the ocean floor, and refused to allow specialists to measure the flow more accurately — a position which will make it easier for them to evade paying their full share of disaster costs. Their CEO, Tony Hayward, has cynically stated that “it’s a big ocean,” and the environmental impact will be “minimal.” They used unprecedented quantities of highly toxic dispersant chemicals, and simply ignored instructions from the EPA. Their drilling disaster is well on track to destroy huge sections of the Gulf of Mexico, and may well contaminate other ocean areas as well.

You’re going to need a pretty big boot. These are not good people. These people are liars and criminals, and there needs to be more than cosmetic action taken against them. Accountability for the Deepwater Horizon disaster must include substantial economic damages, debarment, criminal prosecution, and civil fines under the Clean Water Act. The management of British Petroleum, as well as that of TransOcean and Halliburton, must be compelled to testify under oath both in court and in Congress.

And, ultimately, we need to put British Petroleum out of business. Not just because they’re avaricious, sleazy, conscienceless environmental criminals, but because we need to put all the oil companies out of business. It is obvious to anyone who’s paying attention that all of these companies reward antisocial behavior — behavior that is now putting the entire planetary ecosystem at risk.

The time is now, Mr. President. Address the nation, and make it clear that all of us will have to work hard and contribute to the common good — and that our survival depends on finding alternatives to fossil fuels.

The Deepwater Horizon is just one of countless examples which illuminate why we can no longer afford oil and coal’s so-called “cheap energy.” It’s time for us to start learning and stop burning.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 24: No Excuses!

More on the same theme; this one goes to Time Magazine, which ran an article a few days back:

…independent scientists studying the video and measuring the growing slick at the surface suggested it could be five to 16 times that rate, or even greater if one took into account the enormous, hidden plumes of oil recently discovered under the sea — one such plume measured 10 miles long. Nonetheless, BP CEO Tony Hayward told Britain’s Sky News on Tuesday morning that he didn’t think the spill would seriously hurt the Gulf ecosystem. “Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact will be very, very modest,” he said.

Tony Hayward is a disgrace to the human race.

British Petroleum is gradually acknowledging that its original estimate of oil flow from the wreck of the Deepwater horizon might just be a tad low. Since determination of liability is based on the amount of oil that has entered the ocean, the corporation’s financial interests are well-served by ambiguous measurements. BP and its co-conspirators Halliburton and Transocean will not extend themselves to the maximum in remediating the effects of their negligence without forceful persuasion from the administration. Severe financial penalties and the possibility of debarment from future government contracts would at least be a start on altering the behavior of one of the world’s worst environmental criminals. But the lessons to be learned from this disaster do not stop at the need to levy severe damages on the responsible parties. America must move rapidly toward a new energy economy which will use the absolute minimum of fossil fuels. From the environmental devastation in the Gulf to the mine tragedy in West Virginia, we can see all around us the catastrophic results of our addiction to oil and coal. We can no longer afford “cheap” energy.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 23: Multitasking is Necessary!

Yesterday’s letter was primarily to Ed Markey and secondarily to the President, so I’ve sent him another one for Sunday. More on the Deepwater Horizon — truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Dear President Obama,

The ongoing tragedy of the Gulf of Mexico calls for aggressive governmental action in multiple areas.

We must move rapidly to contain the spill, which is fouling the Gulf with catastrophic implications for human and animal populations. The public statements made by British Petroleum spokespersons suggest that the corporation at fault for the disaster has failed to take its responsibilities seriously. This cannot be allowed to continue.

We must move rapidly to determine the magnitude of the catastrophe. B.P. is again acting in bad faith, as demonstrated by their refusal to allow scientists to conduct accurate measurements of the leak. Since assessment of liability is contingent on the amount of the spill, they stand to save many millions of dollars by relying on an estimated flow rate that is several orders of magnitude too low. This, too, cannot be allowed. Your administration needs to be very forthright in asserting that B.P.’s estimates are no longer considered valid.

We must uncover the cause of the tragedy. At least three different corporations behaved irresponsibly in the leadup to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and their subsequent behavior is further demonstration that in this case, We The People have absolutely no reason to trust these companies and their representatives to tell the truth. BP, Transocean, and Halliburton have killed eleven people and are now putting the lives of millions more at risk. Prosecutions with stiff penalties are called for.

And finally, we must move rapidly to get America and the world off fossil fuels completely. The threats of global warming, arctic methane release and oceanic acidification are all brought about by our destructive habits of taking carbon out of the ground and putting it in the atmosphere. America needs a crash program to develop renewable energy sources, and we need it yesterday.

There is no time to waste. The Gulf of Mexico is yet another “canary in the coalmine” — but the way we are going, it’s not going to be long before all the canaries are dead. Mr. President, we elected you to be a leader. Please lead.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 22: I Hate These People

It turns out, not to my surprise, that BP has a strong financial interest in preventing accurate measurements of the underwater gusher that is currently destroying the Gulf.

BP’s estimate that only 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking daily from a well in the Gulf of Mexico, which the Obama administration hasn’t disputed, could save the company millions of dollars in damages when the financial impact of the spill is resolved in court, legal experts say.

Sounds like the Obama administration should be doing some disputing, don’t you think? I’m sending one copy of this letter to Ed Markey, and one to the President.

Dear Representative Markey/President Obama —

A recent article from McClatchey Newspapers points out that by grossly underestimating the volume of oil issuing from the undersea openings in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum stands to save many millions of dollars. When BP refuses to allow scientists to take accurate flow measurements of the underwater spill, they claim that this is rooted in expediency: they’re “more focused on getting the spill stopped” than on measuring its output.

But BP’s own regional plan for dealing with offshore leaks explicitly states that “In the event of a significant release of oil, an accurate estimation of the spill’s total volume … is essential in providing preliminary data to plan and initiate cleanup operations.”

By blocking specialists from obtaining this data, and by providing a low-ball estimate to the public and the US Government, the management of what is now on track to be the world’s biggest polluter is ensuring that it will never be held adequately accountable for its irresponsibility and criminal negligence.

To me, this has all the earmarks of a criminal conspiracy, perhaps prosecutable under RICO.

I implore you to put this issue front and center in your dealings with the responsible parties. They must not be allowed to get away with this.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

I’m putting this letter out now because I’m going to be away from the computer until Saturday night (family emergency).

Month 5, Day 19: Dunk ’em All!

Back to the Gulf. The Boston Herald printed an AP article on the effects of the spill on the fishing industry, so I used that as the hook for a short and vicious little rant. Will they print it? Ha.

Oil gushes from a hole in the ocean floor; British Petroleum won’t let scientists measure the flow, although estimates go up to 80,000 barrels a day (almost 3.5 million gallons). While the corporations involved in the disaster point fingers at one another, and Republican senators block legislation raising the liability cap, there’s a different sort of buck-passing going on outside the hearing rooms of Congress: Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, just announced that it would give its shareholders a billion dollars in dividends (that’s twice the amount BP has spent thus far on this crisis). Meanwhile, tar balls wash ashore, the ocean is saturated with oil and toxic dispersants, and communities and industries that depend on the Gulf of Mexico are devastated. Will Big Oil and the politicians they’ve bought ever recognize that their responsibilities go beyond maximizing shareholder return on investment? Don’t bet on it.

Warren Senders