Obama Spins the Spill

August 7th, 2010 at 2:50 pm | 60 Comments |

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In its quest to put the oil spill in the rear view mirror before the mid-term elections, the Obama administration just put out a report claiming that only 26 percent of the 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico remains intact on or just below the surface.

Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proudly boasted that “A significant amount of this is a direct result of the very robust federal response efforts.”

Clearly the administration’s goal is to convince voters that it has done a good job and the worst of the oil spill is now behind us.

President Obama, citing both the “static kill” of the well and the report, proclaimed that the long battle with the spill was “finally close to coming to an end.”

At face value this seems like very good news, even though 26 percent is still over 50 million gallons of oil—five times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

Unfortunately, anyone who carefully examines the report will find that the real picture is a great deal murkier.

According to the report just 25 percent of the oil has actually been diverted, collected or otherwise destroyed (see “Oil Budget Chart” below) by that “robust” federal response. The remaining 75% is actually unaccounted for and remains on or below the water’s surface, buried in marsh and beach sediments, or has evaporated.

According to the Washington Post, scientists involved in producing the report said its figures were largely based on assumptions and estimates that carry a significant margin of error.

The Post article quotes Ian MacDonald, a professor of biological oceanography at Florida State University, who points out that the report contains a lot of “smoke and mirrors” and adds “It seems very reassuring, but the data aren’t there to actually bear out the assurances that were made.”

One person who is tickled pink about the report is radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Shortly after oil started gushing into the gulf, Limbaugh claimed it was nothing to worry about because “It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is.”

He seized on the Obama administration’s assessment and proclaimed “The greatest environmental disaster ever — wasn’t, just as El Rushbo told you.” He added “I’d say that Mother Earth just beach-slapped the Democrats and the media.”

For anyone who wants to see new safeguards on drilling, stronger oversight of the oil industry and common sense limits on where drilling is allowed, they should be concerned that the administration’s rush to judgment could serve to undermine those objectives.

While the White House took great pains to claim this is not a “mission accomplished” moment, it certainly seems like one.

What else would you call crowing about a “robust federal response” that was characterized by one failure after another and has left 75 percent of the oil spilled for nature to deal with?

The ecological and economic impacts on the Gulf Coast of this unprecedented oil spill have been severe, and it is a fool’s errand to downplay the potential for lasting and long-term consequences—especially for what appears to be purely political reasons.

Recent Posts by David Jenkins

60 Comments so far ↓

  • djenkins

    balconesfault (by the way, where did that handle come from?), admittedly our job is more challenging in this era where radicals dominate our radio airwaves from sunrise to midnight, but keep in mind that around 50 percent of rank-and-file Republicans support capping carbon emissions.

    Your “irrelevant” comment is simply not supported by the facts. I see REP’s impact everyday, both on elected officials and on others in the party. The progress is not always immediately visible to someone who is only looking at the party’s current leadership, but a foundation is being laid and minds are being changed.

  • balconesfault

    balconesfault (by the way, where did that handle come from?)

    Here in Central Texas, starting around Waco and swinging down in an arc through Killeen, Georgetown, Austin, San Marcos, New Braunsfels, San Antonio, on out to Uvalde, is the Balcones Fault line – which created the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Everything to the east fell, everything to the west was uplifted, and it is largely responsible for making Texas more than a flat, uniform plain from Brownsville to Lubbock. The Hill Country became notable in the last couple decades as Houston oilmen, anxious to escape from time to time the mess that they turned Houston into, drove up land prices buying properties along spring-fed rivers and streams far upstream from their oilfields and refineries.

    While a significant number of rank-and-file Republicans may support capping carbon emissions, sadly what we are too often treated to whenever legislation is proposed is the “closing ranks” by people like Sinz here who would rather see the problems continue than any Democratic Party solution being advanced.

    If environmentalism is no longer viewed in Republican Party circles as akin to communism, the party may be attractive to me once again. But at best all I see from the GOP in recent history are attacks on environmental regulations, astroturfing, and promises made and immediately broken (ie – Bush’s infamous pledge in 2000 to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, followed by 8 years of “studies”).

  • Stewardship

    REP is a great organization credited with many accomplishments, both political and environmental. It’s been around for fifteen years and has members in all 50 states. Its members are probably moderate (that is, not radical..not the type to charge up the Capitol steps with pitchforks and hand-painted signs). It’d be nice if REP could match the US Chamber of Commerce, the oil industry, or the coal industry dollar-for-dollar in ‘reaching’ out to conservative politicians. I’ve always believed…anyone (Dem, Indie, Rep) who supports conservation should trumpet REP to his/her friends, family, colleagues to build it up as large as possible.

    Last week, Lindsey Graham said that the environmental movement doesn’t have any infrastructure on the Republican side…so when GOP senators ignore or don’t go along with the conservation movement’s plans, the GOP politicians don’t pay any price. What if all those organizations on the left helped build REP’s grassroots into an easily mobilized force? (Understanding that REP’s viewpoints don’t always match those coming from liberal environmental groups…I think if you go to their site and try to join REP, you have to acknowledge that you are a Republican).

    This is common ground. Rather than say, “you’re too small” or “let LCV or NRDC handle this,” why not use REP has the platform on which to build Sen. Graham’s “infrastructure?”

  • balconesfault

    Sinz: A climate change bill could be passed by a combination of moderate Dems and moderate Repubs. Such a bill was actually under development this past year. It contained sweeteners for these folks like expanded nuclear power and expanded oil drilling.

    And until Sinz gets his expanded nuclear power and oil drilling, he’ll happily hold the environment hostage, despite realizing the dangers of climate change.

    You’re a free marketeer, right? If so, why would you not believe that an aggressive carbon tax or cap and trade system would create the free market incentive for expanded nuclear power? The reality is that most in the renewable energy industry would welcome a carbon tax or cap and trade system, believing that this will drive the market to invest in their technologies and largely eliminate the need for Renewable Energy Credits or tax subsidies.

    What’s wrong with nuclear?

  • Stewardship

    I’ve not followed the entire thread, but much of the discussion emanating from liberal environmental groups was opposed to any nuclear cheerleading in the legislation. That, again, is one strength of a Republican organization like Republicans for Environmental Protection…it can logically argue for an “all of the above–including nuclear” approach.

  • balconesfault

    I’ve not followed the entire thread, but much of the discussion emanating from liberal environmental groups was opposed to any nuclear cheerleading in the legislation.

    This is true, but you should also note that President Obama announced guaranteed loans for new nuclear facilities, and there is little or no evidence that incorporating nuclear as part of a climate change bill would have slowed or stopped the legislation – those liberal environmental groups would have been barely a speedbump to a comprehensive bill getting passed that included nuclear.

    The problem is that there is also little or no evidence that incorporating nuclear as part of a climate change bill would have brought more than a very very small handful of Republican votes for the legislation. In fact, there’s no evidence at this juncture that incorporating nuclear would derail a successful filibuster.

    Which puts Democratics in Congress in a position where they can incorporate nuclear, piss off members of their own base, while gaining nothing politically.

    Once again, as long as Republicans in Congress are determined to march in lockstep to block any progressive legislation proposed by Obama and the Democrats, their power to affect legislation is simply limited to the power to block legislation. Which is what they are currently doing with carbon emissions legislation.

  • ktward

    Stewardship: Last week, Lindsey Graham said that the environmental movement doesn’t have any infrastructure on the Republican side…so when GOP senators ignore or don’t go along with the conservation movement’s plans, the GOP politicians don’t pay any price. What if all those organizations on the left helped build REP’s grassroots into an easily mobilized force?

    Strategically, that’s simply foolish.
    Other Enviro groups are, by economic necessity, utilizing their resources in the most efficient way possible; notably, by supporting pols and candidates that are already enviro-friendly, and lobbying the fence-sitters. Why on earth would any other enviro org splinter their precious resources and dilute their own efficacy, all to shore up REP?

    Seriously. After 15 years, if REP isn’t already a widely well-regarded enviro voice within the GOP, what makes you think that an REP coalition with [gasp!] Dem-supporting enviro orgs is going to lend them any clout? If anything, REP would be demoted from ‘fringe-to-ignore’ category to that of ‘conspirators with the evil Left’.

    That said, would that the vast majority of GOP pols/candidates were simply ‘on the fence’ or lukewarm about enviro issues. But no. They are dead-set anti-enviros, thoroughly convinced of a politically-motivated conspiracy between the scientific community at large and the Left. ‘Crazy’ cannot be reasoned with, much less persuaded.

    A far more constructive alternative is that REP lend its resources to other enviro orgs that aren’t uselessly spinning their wheels.

  • ktward

    Jenkins: … and last time I checked, none of us are wearing pink boas or strap on phallic missles [sic] like Code Pink.

    My point exactly.
    REP is an altogether sober, reputable, and otherwise dignified organization. Yet, it wields no more influence among GOP pols, Party operatives and policies than does Code Pink among Dem counterparts.

    Irrelevance, yes. [headnod to bf]

    From your own website:
    As of REP’s incorporation in 1996, its founders believed “…[t]here were still many conservation-minded Republicans left in Congress and the state houses. Enough, certainly, to build on. But the GOP establishment wasn’t likely to change its attitude unless somebody took the initiative to make it happen.

    It’s a safe bet that, today, there remain numbers way less than whatever the pitifully described ‘enough’ was in 1996.

    You speak of REP’s ‘achievements’.
    I see virtually no rubber on that road, even after 15 years of REP’s driving efforts: in terms of both enacted GOP policy and Party ideology, the GOP’s downward spiral in responsible enviro stewardship — a profound deficiency that inspired your own founders — has continued in that direction. Down.

    Look. To be sure, I’ve my share of issues with both Obama’s admin and, for many years now, the Dem Party. (Best not to get me started.) I’m a pragmatic voter: originally a GOPer who voted for Reagan twice and GHWB. During Clinton, I re-registered Indie and remain one to this day. (In a nutshell, the Religious Right’s myopic, overwhelming influence within the GOP became untenable to my own political sensibilities.)

    Bottom line: your slanted editorial handiwork above does zero for the enviro movement, particularly in regards to the Gulf spill; it serves only as a tactical means to score partisan points with the anti-O automatons.


    1) Because you proudly — hence, hypocritically — wave the GOP flag while the bulk of its Party operatives and pols most unsubtly exploit critical enviro issues solely for their own anti-Dem/O purposes.

    2) Because the GOP has no comprehensive enviro platform, no hint of responsible enviro policy, and no viable pols that are invested enough to buck their archaic Party mouthpieces in order to promote both competent governance (regulation!) and the creative, comprehensive legislation required to effectively address our urgent enviro challenges. (Now that Graham has evidently walked away, who else is there on the GOP side of the aisle?)

    3) Because GOP admin, policy and platform are horribly complicit in setting the stage for this very disaster.

    You wanna talk ‘spin’?
    Let’s say, for sake of argument, that REP’s own collective anti-Obama spin actually manages to persuade ‘us’ to elect a GOP Pres in 2012. How do you think enviro issues will fare then? Especially now, where the Bush/Cheney legacy has energized the GOP’s fringe into an inexplicably and overwhelmingly influential bloc? Rhetorical questions. We know the answer.

    In reply to Stewardship, I suggested that REP might throw its limited resources toward other, way more demonstrably effective enviro orgs. But the only reason you might do that is if enviro issues — and the urgent need for comprehensive legislation — were, in actuality, your priority mission.

    Alas, I suspect that electing GOPers is actually REP’s first priority.
    You could prove me very wrong, though. For instance, does REP support enviro-friendly Dem candidates over their GOP enviro-denialist competitors?

    (btw: the most reputable and effective Enviro orgs are, in fact, non-partisan. It just so happens that they generally support Dems because, well … you know. But find them a GOP enviro champion, and I’m sure they’ll be on board. No hurries, but … got one yet?)

  • balconesfault

    But find them a GOP enviro champion, and I’m sure they’ll be on board.

    In fact, the Sierra Club was pushing John McCain pretty hard a few years ago thanks to his verbal support for climate change legislation, back before McCain did another maverick move and completely ditched the environmental movement as a way of shoring up his GOP bona fides (the Sierra Club noted in their review of 2007 “McCain was the only member of Congress to skip every single crucial environmental vote scored by the organization”).

    I suspect that the Sierra Club, NRDC, League of Conservation Voters, et al would be falling all over themselves to be singing the praises of any Republican who had a decent record on the League of Conservation Voters scorecard – in fact I believe that Sierra has often given kudos to the ladies Snowe and Collins who stand virtually isolated in the Republican Party on that count with scores of 73% and 64% in 2009, respectively.

    The next best after the New England ladies is Lisa Murkowski at 36% … which ironically is the same as the worst Democrat, Senator Byrd of that great strip mining and cancer alley (the Kanawha valley) state of West By God Virginia.

    The average of the Republican Delegation is 15%. The average without the Mainers is 12%. Lindsey Graham and John McCain are both 9%, btw (what a shock that they have the same record!)

  • ktward


    You’re apparently privy to intel I understood to be For My Eyes Only. (Fellow NRDC/LCV supporter?) Conflictingly, I’m both flattered and suspicious that you took the time to read my entire post– right down to my last line, evidently. (I do go on. For most bloggers, all too painfully on.) You’re either exceptionally gracious or a textbook masochist. I’ll assume the former, if that’s okay with you.

    McCain. What can be said that hasn’t already been said? He’s grown profoundly opportunistic and unreliable in his old age. Makes for a crappy pol. Nevertheless, I hope that when he dies, it is with the considerable dignity that is his due.

    As an Indie, I’m not one to let petty partisanry get in the way of an otherwise fruitful worship: Blessed are Maine’s GOP Senators, and the Mainers who elect them. Within the Senatorial desert of today’s GOP, Snowe and/or Collins have often proved the oasis that preserves the very life of legislative progress. I happen to think they’re rather kewl, sensible chicks, but they’re not media headliners when it comes to championing any cause. Because they’re not ‘champions’. They’re simply sane legislators. Boy do I wish we had more of those.

    The most active and legitimate Enviro orgs care not one whit what political Party any enviro champion might align with. REP’s ignorance of this is the fatal flaw in their mission. After 15 years, one might reasonably expect they’d copped a clue already.