Year 3, Month 1, Day 2: And They DEFINITELY Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Get Married!

Looks like some underlings are gonna feel some heat:

U.S. prosecutors are preparing what would be the first criminal charges against BP PLC employees stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, said people familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors are focused on several Houston-based engineers and at least one of their supervisors at the British oil company, though the breadth of the investigation isn’t known. The prosecutors assert the employees may have provided false information to regulators about the risks associated with the Gulf of Mexico well while its drilling was in progress, these people said.

As the bumper sticker says, I’ll believe corporations are people when I see Texas execute one. Sent December 29:

Now that the Citizens United decision has helped establish corporate personhood as part of America’s legal fabric, we should all be asking questions about what happens when corporations break the law. Given the conservative/libertarian mantra of “individual responsibility,” one would expect “persons” like British Petroleum to be held fully responsible for their misdeeds.

An individual who, through gross incompetence, destroyed vast swaths of ocean habitat, killed thousands upon thousands of living things, and wiped out local economies would be rightly treated as a criminal. The available evidence suggests that BP’s malfeasance extends all the way up the corporate ladder, with safety and environmental concerns systemically neglected in an all-consuming rush for greater profits.

What BP did to the Gulf of Mexico, the fossil fuel industry as a whole is doing to Earth’s atmosphere. It is time for these corporate “persons” to be indicted and tried for their criminally negligent behavior.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 10, Day 16: Kill ’em All and Let Dick Cheney Sort ’em Out.

Oh, great. Read it in The Independent (UK) and weep:

BP is making contingency plans to fight the largest oil spill in history, as it prepares to drill more than 4,000 feet down in the Atlantic in wildlife-rich British waters off the Shetland Islands.

Internal company documents seen by The Independent show that the worst-case scenario for a spill from its North Uist exploratory well, to be sunk next year, would involve a leak of 75,000 barrels a day for 140 days – a total of 10.5 million barrels of oil, comfortably the world’s biggest pollution disaster.

Fossil fuels make it possible for stupid and unethical people to become hideously rich and powerful. That alone should be a reason to remove them from our world economy.

Sent October 12:

We’ve known for years that oil is toxic. The devastation of entire regional ecologies in the aftermath of spills is amply and tragically documented. Crude offers a remarkable array of carcinogens, along with many other toxins. Medicine is only beginning to understand the profound neurological consequences of crude oil exposure, but no sane person doubts that it’s viciously poisonous.

But that’s not all. It now appears that oil can cause profound cognitive damage even among those who don’t come in direct contact with it. The symptoms include significantly impaired judgment, including indifference to public opinion, ethical lapses, and an inability to draw logical conclusions from available data. How else shall we explain BP’s plans for exploratory drilling off the Shetland Islands?

The ghastly lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster have been ignored by the corporation most responsible. The ecosystems and economies of the Gulf of Mexico have no such luxury.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 4, Day 8: Trust Us.

USA Today notes that the public doesn’t feel very confident about nuclear reactors anymore. I thought it was worth making the point that it’s not just about Japan’s agony, but that all the energy corporations appear to be equally avaricious and incompetent.

Sent March 30:

As the natural and human-made disasters in Japan achieve a terrifying synergy, public support for nuclear power has understandably dropped off significantly. And for good reason. With countless examples demonstrating that the profit motive invariably trumps safety concerns, people see no reason to trust any of the world’s energy companies. BP’s mishandling of the Deepwater Horizon blowout led to the fouling of huge areas of ocean; in Fukushima, TEPCO’s sloppiness has likely led to a nuclear disaster of Chernobyllian proportions. While it is premature to forecast the end of nuclear power generation (when the alternative is burning coal, the specter of catastrophic climate change looms very large indeed), we need to recognize a hard truth: whether it’s oil, coal or uranium, the era of “cheap” energy is over. Conservation, once derided by Dick Cheney as merely a sign of personal virtue, must be the foundation of our national energy policy.

Warren Senders

Month 11, Day 2: An Election Day Letter

The Guardian comments on the expected barrage of Republican idiots investigating things. If I were a believer, I’d be praying. If you’re a believer, please pray…but GOTV either way! I’ll probably be driving people to the polls tomorrow at some point…not sure how that’s going to work with a kid in tow, but wotthehell.

It is surreal to imagine Republican congressional inquiries into the Obama administration’s inept handling of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. How would these anti-environmental zealots keep the scope of their investigations from moving back to the Bush-era EPA’s carefully nurtured culture of incompetence and corruption? Given that the Tea Party Republicans are overwhelmingly ready to reject scientific evidence, it should be no surprise that they are anti-reality in other areas as well. While their handling of the Gulf catastrophe was hardly the Obama team’s finest hour, it’s incontrovertible that the Bush/Cheney administration laid the foundation for BP’s destructive and callous behavior. The spill in the Gulf may have poisoned multiple ecosystems beyond recovery, but the behavior of Republican politicians demonstrates that oil kills rationality, logic and accountability just as thoroughly as it wipes out fish, turtles and sea birds.

Warren Senders

Month 10, Day 13: Grrrrrrr.


Dear Secretary Salazar — The Department of the Interior may have set some higher safety and environmental impact standards for offshore drilling, but will this translate into increased enforcement of these standards? If the moratorium on drilling is lifted, we need to significantly increase the budget for inspectors and regulators who will be a powerful presence on each and every drilling rig.

During the previous administration regulations were first gutted, then flouted, then ignored, leading inexorably to the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon disaster. It won’t make a bit of difference if the regulations are toughened unless the enforcement environment is made much, much, much more stringent.

The plain fact is that these big oil companies have been getting away with environmental crimes for decades — oil and coal extraction has severely damaged ecosystems around the world, many of them irrevocably. With our planetary system already in a state of shock from increased greenhouse gas emissions, there can no longer be any excuse for allowing fossil fuel industries free rein in their misuse of extractive technologies.

Any adjustment to safety and environmental regulations that assumes responsible behavior on the part of these organizations is hopelessly naive. I confess to grave disappointment; I had hopes that the present administration was prepared to recognize the grave environmental consequences of unbridled corporate sociopathy. I hope that I am proven wrong, but I am afraid that the Department of the Interior has just gotten played. Again.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 23: Variations on a Theme

The BP disaster was really the gift that kept on giving for a letter-writer. This goes to the New Orleans Times-Picayune in response to their article on BP’s inept handling of the spill.

Since BP’s low-ball estimates of flow rate were the ones accepted by the media and the Federal government, the profoundly inadequate response on both public and private levels is unsurprising. What is bizarre is how strongly Tony Hayward and the rest of the BP team appeared to believe their own misinformation, as if the power of a misleading number would somehow make millions of gallons of oil swiftly and suddenly vanish away. This global giant is either so incompetent it cannot measure its own work accurately, or it is so unethical that it would circulate misstatements and spin in order to avoid responsibility. That’s the choice, and it’s a pretty unappealing one. America needs an energy economy where citizens aren’t daily forced to support corporations whose behavior is stupid, malevolent or some combination of the two.

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 22: And Tell It, Tell It, Tell It!

As promised.

Dear Director Lubchenco,

The environmentally concerned public is anxiously awaiting the release of your report on the damage done to the Gulf of Mexico by the disastrous wreck of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon drilling project.

It is crucial that your report address the consistent spreading of misinformation on the part of BP and their allies in the industry. Lowballing of initial flow estimates; blocking the media from spill-affected areas; refusing to allow scientific specialists to conduct accurate measurements of flow from the gusher on the Gulf floor…the list goes on and on.

If we are to have a hope of trusting our government in a disaster of this magnitude, the report issued under your imprimatur must be absolutely truthful. The Gulf crisis was exacerbated by BP’s dissimulation, and it will be to the everlasting shame of our own government that the Administration accepted their estimates and assessments for so long. If it was obvious to any observant citizen that Tony Hayward and his spokespeople were lying through their teeth, why was our Coast Guard so trusting?

I recognize that your mandate is simply to provide an accurate scientific report on the consequences of the oil spill. But failing to address the toxic effects of corporate misinformation is to abdicate your responsibilities to the American people and to the health of the oceans you’ve devoted your life to studying. We cannot afford another Deepwater Horizon…and we cannot afford more lies, misdirection and dissimulation from the extractive industries who are responsible for so much of the world’s environmental degradation.

Thank you,

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 21: Tell The Truth, Tell The Truth, Tell The Truth

The Times had an editorial about the eventual release of the NOAA report on the State of the Gulf. That triggered this reflection on the harm that BP’s toxic clouds of press-conference bullshit have done to our ability to figure out what the hell is going on. I think I’ll write Lubchenco tomorrow and tell her the same thing in more measured terms.

It is natural to hope that Director Lubchenco’s long-awaited report on the condition of the Gulf of Mexico gives us good news about the marine ecosystems that have been shattered by the unimaginable disaster on the Deepwater Horizon.   But whether the Gulf is recovering or not, the single most important thing Americans need to hear is that the time of denying and disguising inconvenient truths is over.   As the spill and its aftermath saturated the news, dribs and drabs of information drifted in, revealing disturbing glimpses of a systemic negligence at the highest corporate levels.  BP’s largely successful attempts to control the media’s reporting of the Gulf tragedy are a vivid example of the destruction of our informational environment by malign corporate entities seeking the maximization of profits rather than the common good.  If we are to repair our planet’s climate, we require unblinkingly accurate information, not corporate spin.

Warren Senders

Month 8, Day 5: Many Happy Returns!

Bill McKibben wrote this absolutely kick-ass piece, which went up in a bunch of places. I was inspired. Then I read Bob Cesca’s piece at Huffington Post and was further inspired. So I combined the two in a long letter to POTUS, who hasn’t heard from me for at least a week.

Dear President Obama,

The oil flowing from the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster has finally been stopped, and for that we are all deeply grateful. But there is another spill which has not been capped — and if this one doesn’t get dealt with, all of us will be the losers.

I’m talking about the uncontrolled gusher of misrepresentations, evasions and equivocations that come from the mouths of BP spokesmen, from the PR outlets of Big Oil, from the offices of Senators and Representatives who have been taken over by petroleum interests…and, alas, from your own administration.

It is surely tempting to sugar-coat unpleasant facts; time and again we have learned that the political process is unkind to those who speak the truth bluntly and accurately. But there is a time for the actual truth, and now is that time.

The truth is — that BP spilled almost five million barrels of oil. If they’ve cleaned up three-quarters of it, that leaves about fifty-three million gallons, which is five times the size of the Exxon Valdez.

The truth is — that BP lied from the beginning about how much was flowing; far from cooperating in the cleanup process, they have done as much as they could to hide the details, restrict the flow of information, and make it impossible for accurate measurements to be taken.

The truth is — that the toxic dispersants they’ve used haven’t evaporated; they’ve dissolved into the seawater along with the oil. That doesn’t make the oil go away; it just hides it, and leaves the waters of the Gulf of Mexico a toxic chemical stew that will destroy ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

The truth is — that BP was criminally careless in their handling of the Deepwater Horizon platform, and criminally careless in their handling of the disaster.

The truth is — that carelessness and mendacity are part and parcel of the strategic toolkit of Big Oil, day in and day out.

The truth is — that nobody in the United States should take anything an oil company representative utters at face value. To paraphrase Mary McCarthy, “Every word is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’ “

The truth is — that global climate change is a slow-motion disaster unfolding before our horrified eyes, and it has been made possible by the malfeasance of our energy sector.

The truth is — that Americans need to hear the truth, and they need to hear it from their elected representatives.

And the truth is, Mr. President — that means you.

We can’t afford happy talk right now. We need to know how bad it’s gotten if we’re going to find ways to stop it from getting worse.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

PS — Happy Birthday!

Month 7, Day 31: Grrrrrrrrr.

Newsweek ran an article on the “biggest losers” from the Deepwater Horizon debacle. This approach is typical of the horserace-obsessed journalistic establishment, and it’s part and parcel of our national ADD. Among the “losers” was a climate bill:

Who could have predicted that a landmark environmental disaster would make a comprehensive energy bill even less likely? Yet before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, offshore oil and gas drilling was actually a point of compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Obama had lifted the moratorium on exploration off the East Coast, which seemed like a gesture to win support from “Drill, Baby, Drill” Republicans for more far-reaching proposals, including a cap-and-trade scheme to curb greenhouse emissions. Now, opposition to offshore drilling has increased in the wake of the spill. In fact, Obama has imposed a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling permits. MSN’s Jim Jubak observed, “Without increased drilling as a bargaining chip to offer, there’s no way to build the coalition necessary to pass an energy bill that focuses on fighting global climate change.” His words were prescient–with little support from the White House, leading Democrats finally pronounced cap-and-trade dead in the Senate last week.

This analysis has a modicum of short-term political factuality to it, but it’s also a way for Newsweek to avoid confronting the truth about their role in shaping the discussion.

Yes, by taking offshore drilling off the table, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico counterintuitively played a role in making climate/energy legislation less likely to pass the Senate. But our continuing failure to confront climate change can’t be blamed on BP’s malfeasance. Rather, the responsibility rests with those who have fostered a culture of denial which has made it possible for our policy-makers to ignore decades of increasingly urgent warnings. By perpetuating a policy of false equivalence in which every statement from a qualified scientist is balanced by a dismissal from an industry-funded denialist, our media conveys the impression of an unresolved controversy. If the “debate” over climate change were represented accurately, we’d hear forty-eight climatologists for every “skeptic.” Our print and broadcast media have abdicated their responsibility to the truth, and their failure is going to have painful consequences for us all.

Warren Senders