Demonizing the oilmen

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The Article

But it was a “shakedown.”

The trouble U.S. Rep. Joe Barton got himself into this week—not only with Democrat opponents, but with his fellow Republicans, after using that word, shakedown—was sufficient to squeeze an apology from the man. It was a slightly droll, Texas apology, withdrawing another apology, as it were—but clearly, he won’t be the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee for long, if he persists in using such plain language.

The $20 billion that BP felt obliged to put in escrow, to cover future environmental claims from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, was very obviously shaken down by an Obama administration whose whole idea of governing is finding an “ass to kick.”

As I mentioned in a previous column, I despised BP for its years of false environmental posturing; but by now I almost feel sorry for them.

Who pays? The shareholders of BP, who have had their dividends suspended. These include great numbers of pensioners, British especially, but also American, who find their liabilities, in effect, no longer limited by law. For the people now in control of Washington are not interested in legal niceties. They are interested in finding, and bleeding, a scapegoat. Nor will they wait until blame has been assigned in patient public inquiries.

While the whole issue has been wildly overplayed in the media—finally we have one dead whale, and the tears for turtles are far in excess of any shed for the 11 human beings who lost their lives on Deepwater Horizon—the consequences of this attention are real enough. We have whole classes of people now invited to play victim. With trial lawyers pocketing a significant percentage of every settlement—that rich and vuvuzelaceously loud Democrat constituency.

And as we saw in President Obama’s Tuesday night address, he has every intention to use this largely artificial crisis to leverage energy and environmental legislation that will be vastly more destructive of people’s livelihoods than anything now washing ashore.

For consider: a very large part of the population of the U.S. Gulf states depend directly or indirectly on those (surviving) oil platforms. When the U.S. government shuts them down, for an extended period, out of environmentalist unction, it does vastly more aggregate economic damage—to those human beings—than to the ones who may be minding oyster beds. And the latter would anyway be compensated under existing and long-established tort law.

Indeed, litigation was an issue for down the road. Cleaning up the spill is the issue now; but it is clearly beyond the competence of the Obama administration. They still have not done any of the things the Bush administration did, promptly, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to remove bureaucratic obstacles to the rescue efforts.

They have, to use just one of the more spectacular examples, the Coast Guard grounding a fleet of barges from the state of Louisiana that were sucking up surface oil directly threatening the coast, in order to do leisurely and irrelevant safety checks. They have multiple overlapping environmental agencies, with their multiple overlapping veto powers, putting mountains of paperwork in the way of every other effort. It is “business as usual” for the bureaucracies, two full months after the initial catastrophe.

They still do not have reliable information on the extent of the spill, or accumulated damage. After diligent and repeated inquiry, ABC news were able to extract the figure of “52 miles” of effected coastline. This is 52 miles too many, but still, a tiny fraction of the U.S. Gulf coast; and therefore a strong indication that the problem was manageable.

Yes, what I am saying is outrageous. Joe Barton could tell you that: a man who has been demonized for his very familiarity with the oil industry. His problem, at the Congressional hearings on Thursday, was to be the one man in the room (at least on the political side) who knew what he was talking about.

Meanwhile, the BP executives—who had no intention to spill oil, who are not exclusively responsible for the accident, and who have every motive to bring the quickest possible end to what is a worse nightmare for them than for anyone—are threatened, and shaken down, as if they had acted consistently from pure malice. It is political theatre so egregious even “liberal” people in the U.S. are beginning to see through it.

This is politics today: all stunt and posture, while real, manageable problems are ignored, together with the actual consequences of each theatrical action. It is what we will see writ large at the “G-whiz” summits in Ontario next week: the same applied to issues of rather greater consequence.

David Warren
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