Tales from the Trail

Washington spinmeisters start BP’s damage control

OIL-RIG/LEAKThe new public relations gurus hired by BP couldn’t have started at a better time. The team, headed by Anne Womack-Kolton — a former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney and the White House — had just started work when they had to deal with an unfortunate statement by BP chief executive Tony Hayward.

On Sunday Hayward infuriated many of those struggling to deal with the impact the massive oil spill has had on their lives and livelihood when he said he wanted his “life back” and wanted the oil spill mess to be over. So today his office issued the following email:

I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment on Sunday when I said that ‘I wanted my life back.’ When I read that recently, I was appalled. I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Those words don’t represent how I feel about this tragedy, and certainly don’t represent the hearts of the people of BP – many of whom live and work in the Gulf – who are doing everything they can to make things right. My first priority is doing all we can to restore the lives of the people of the Gulf region and their families – to restore their lives, not mine.

So what do you think? Does it work to issue such an email? Can Washington pubic relations officials really do anything to fix BP’s image?

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Sean Gardner (Garret Graves with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority shows his hand after collecting oil samples in Pass A Loutre near Venice, Louisiana on May 26, 2010)

Obama’s oil oratory — Katrina, drill baby drill, boom and shave

President Barack Obama, in his first formal press conference  in almost a year (since July), answered questions about his handling of the oil spill.

There was the one about Katrina comparisons. (Slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina turned into an albatross for former President George W. Bush). OIL-LEAK/OBAMA

“I’ll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons … and make judgments on it, because what I’m spending my time thinking about is how do we solve the problem?” Obama said.

from Environment Forum:

Oil-soaked sand along Gulf Coast raises memories of Exxon Valdez

Oil on BeachA handful of oily sand grabbed from a Louisiana wetland brought back some strong memories for Earl Kingik. As a traditional hunter and whaler in Alaska's Arctic, it reminded him of the Exxon Valdez spill. As he and other tribal leaders toured the U.S. Gulf Coast for signs of the BP oil spill, they worried that what's happening now in Louisiana could happen if offshore drilling proceeds off the Alaskan coast.

"There's no way to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic," said Kingik, an Inupiat tribal member from Point Hope, Alaska. Compared to Louisiana, where the waters are relatively calm and cleanup equipment and experts are nearby, the Arctic Ocean is a hostile place for oil and gas exploration. The Arctic leaders made their pilgrimage to the Gulf Coast as part of a campaign to block planned exploratory drilling by Shell Oil  in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

4 looking out windows"What I saw was devastating out there," Martha Falk, the tribal council treasurer of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope in Alaska, said after the Gulf Coast tour by seaplane, boat and on foot. If the same thing occurred off Alaska, she said, "We would have to wait days and days and days for (cleanup) equipment to reach our area."

No magic solution for oil spill, elbowing BP won’t do any good

The message from the White House podium today was loud and clear – there is no magic fix for the oil spill that looks like curdled chocolate milk flowing on top of the Gulf of Mexico. And there isn’t much that anyone can do that BP isn’t doing.

OIL-RIG/LEAKCan government push BP out of the way if it believes the company is not doing the job?

“Well, to push BP out of the way would raise a question — to replace them with what?” Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard, the administration’s response chief for the disaster, asked back.

from Environment Forum:

Gulf of Mexico oil spill prompts worries about Arctic drilling

RUSSIAWith the spotlight shining on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and on the executives sizzling in the hot seat on Capitol Hill, environmental advocates are looking north.

They're worried that Shell Oil will start drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska before the U.S. government reports on BP's Deepwater Horizon drill rig disaster. And the environmental groups are not comforted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's reassurances that no new drilling will take place until the government report is completed by May 28.

"The May 28 report deadline still leaves ample time should the Department of the Interior choose to allow this ill-advised drilling to move forward in extreme Arctic conditions, where spill response faces additional challenges of sea ice, seas of up to 20 feet, darkness and a virtual lack of infrastructure from which to stage a response," the environmental groups -- Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society -- said in a statement.

from Environment Forum:

Washington math: oil spill + climate bill = new environmental polls

OIL-RIG/LEAKWith BP's spilled oil shimmering off the U.S. Gulf Coast, and a re-tooled bill to curb climate change expected to be unveiled this week in the U.S. Senate, what could be more appropriate than a bouquet of new environmental polls? Conducted on behalf of groups that want less fossil fuel use, the polls show hefty majorities favoring legislation to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

In the kind of harmonic convergence that sometimes happens inside the Capital Beltway, a new poll released on Monday by the Clean Energy Works campaign showed "overwhelming public support for comprehensive clean energy legislation," with 61 percent of 2010 voters saying they want to limit pollution, invest in clean energy and make energy companies pay for emitting the carbon that contributes to climate change. A healthy majority -- 54 percent -- of respondents said they'd be more likely to re-elect a senator who votes for the bill.

Last Friday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been pushing for climate change legislation for years, released its own poll numbers. NRDC's pollsters found seven in 10 Americans want to see fast-tracked clean energy legislation in the wake of the BP oil spill, and two-thirds say they want to postpone new offshore drilling until the Gulf oil spill is investigated and new safeguards are put in place.

Maybe we should just call it “Katrina-slick-gate”

USA-RIG/LEAK

Is “Katrina” the “gate” of the 2000s?

The 1972 Watergate break-in spawned an army of “gates,” as the expression “whatever-gate” became shorthand for any political scandal. The subsequent decades saw “Travelgate,”  “Irangate,” “Nannygate, ”Whitewatergate” and a host of other major and minor political improprieties.

Almost 40 years later, “Katrina” has become popular political shorthand representing the slow response to a disaster, a nod toward the aftermath of  the devastating 2005 hurricane in New Orleans by then-President George W. Bush. The perception that the Republican president cared too little about the people of New Orleans to respond quickly to a hurricane that killed some 1,800 Americans was devastating to his public image, and hurt his party in the 2008 election that brought Democratic President Barack Obama to power.

Pundits have been waiting for ”Obama’s Katrina” almost since he took office in 2009.