Tales from the Trail

White House commission wades into “Deep Water”

OILSPILL-BP/COMMISSIONThe great thing about presidential commissions is that they can soberly consider complicated matters and then offer unvarnished reports on what to do. The tough part is when that information rockets around Washington, as occurred after a White House commission issued its final report on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The “Deep Water” report, apparently titled in reference to the doomed BP Deepwater Horizon rig, blames the deadly blowout and oil spill on government and industry complacency, and recommends more regulation of offshore drilling and a new independent safety agency. But as my colleague Ayesha Rascoe reports, the commission lacks the authority to establish drilling policies or punish companies.

Within minutes of the report’s release, and even as commission co-chair William Reilly was bragging about bringing the report in on time and under budget, interest groups started the PR barrage, with industry critical and environmental outfits largely complimentary. Two Democratic members of Congress said they’d introduce legislation to implement the commission’s recommendations.

Will that legislation go anywhere? Industry analysts are doubtful. To get an idea of how much action can be prompted by White House panels, it’s useful to take a look at two previous ones.

OILSPILL-BP/COMMISSIONThe 911 Commission (formally called “The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States”) was perhaps the ultimate in gracefully delivering its hard findings: “… on that September day we were unprepared.  We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over time. As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy, management, capability, and – above all – a failure of imagination.”

Should U.S. oil royalties pay for studies of BP spill’s environmental impact?

OIL-SPILL/Oil caused the mess in the Gulf of Mexico. Should U.S. oil royalties pay for scientists to study what happened, and what’s still happening, to this complex environment?

At least one scientist thinks so. Ed Overton of Louisiana State University figures the billions of dollars collected in royalties by the now-defunct and much-reviled Minerals Management Service — re-named and re-organized as the Bureau of Ocean Energy — must have enough money to pay for research into the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill.

Speaking at a Senate hearing last week on the effects of oil-dispersing chemicals, Overton and other experts called the BP spill an unintentional “grand experiment” into what deep water oil exploration can do to animals, plants, water and land in the Gulf. As Overton put it, the oil and dispersants are out there now. Best to study them over the months and years ahead to figure out what they’re doing to the environment.

Obama plays hoops with NBA stars

President Barack Obama wrapped up his 49th birthday bash with perhaps the ultimate gift for a basketball fan.obama_basketball

Someone arranged for Obama to play  hoops with a “dream team” of NBA stars — past and present – (and UConn Huskies superstar Maya Moore) at Fort McNair, a short distance from the White House.

It was a private game, meaning the White House press pool was not allowed into the gym to capture images. But we’re told Carmelo Anthony, Derek Fisher, Dwyane Wade, Grant Hill, LeBron James, “Magic” Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Russell, and David West were among those in the lineup. Kobe Bryant was there too, but didn’t play.

What does an oiled pelican look like?

OIL-SPILL/You’ve probably seen the disturbing images of pelicans so badly mired in leaking oil in the Gulf of Mexico that they can barely be distinguished as birds at all — they look like part of the muck.

But nearly three months after the blowout at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, there are other pelicans touched by the oil where the impact is far less apparent, though still real.

Take a look at some video I took during a boat trip on July 15 along West Pass, a long channel stretching out into the ocean from Louisiana’s southern-most tip:

What’s in a name? Will BOE smell sweeter than MMS?

KENYA-VOLCANO/EXPORTSShakespeare definitely put it best, in that famous balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet”: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” But what if the original smell wasn’t so great? Will a name change make a difference?

That might have been the purpose behind the Obama administration’s decision to change the name of the U.S. agency that oversees offshore oil drilling — the Minerals Management Service — to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or Bureau of Ocean Energy for short.

The name change is part of a redo at the agency, which is being broken up into three divisions so that the same agency that grants permits to drill doesn’t also oversee safety. There will also be a new chief , former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich, to lead the reorganization. The renovation at the agency comes after criticism over the old MMS’s handling of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Is time off allowed during a mammoth oil spill crisis? Depends…

BP CEO Tony Hayward takes time off to watch his yacht race in British waters, President Barack Obama goes golfing over the Father’s Day weekend. OIL-SPILL/

Is that acceptable when the BP oil spill, the worst in U.S. history and a huge environmental disaster, is entering a third month in the Gulf of Mexico?

Well, depends on who you talk to.

The White House on Monday made a cutting remark about Hayward’s yacht trip: “Look, if Tony Hayward wants to put a skimmer on that yacht and bring it down to the Gulf, we’d be happy to have his help,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said at the daily media briefing. 

You won’t believe this – Dems cash in on Republican BP apology

Congressional Democrats are quickly trying to cash in on Joe Barton, the Republican lawmaker with ties to the oil industry who apologized to BP on national TV.

bartonJust hours after Barton’s remarks on Thursday, the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees issued fund-raising appeals featuring and ridiculing the white-haired Texan. 

“You won’t believe this,” begins the letter from the House Democratic campaign committee. “Yes, Texas Congressman Joe Barton actually apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward.”

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.