It is heart breaking enough to observe how British Petroleum’s negligence (and arguably Halliburton’s by extension) has resulted in the wasteful destruction of vast natural resources and on the death of countless innocent animals but as if that were not enough now we get word that the cleanup workers are getting sick due to lack of proper protective equipment. Even more outrageous: there are now reports that BP threatens to fire its cleanup workers if they bring their own protective equipment. Keith Olbermann recently featured Marylee Orr of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and discussed the atrocious working conditions that are causing cleanup workers to get sick:
As the gulf’s local ocean-dependent economic activities lie in shambles, it is not surprising to see people in the area impacted by the oil disaster risk their own health in desperate attempts to feed their families and help alleviate the disastrous situation. There is no question that the unprecedented nature of BP’s oil catastrophe on America’s coastline has forced everyone to improvise quick responses. Edward James Olmos was recently interviewed by Anderson Cooper and had this to say (to access video of his interview, click here):
[...] no one knows why things are happening the way they are here; I have friends and relatives who want to volunteer their boats, to come down here and help, save their backyard [...]
People are anxious to help, in fact, perhaps the diversity in cleanup workers should come as no surprise in the cause to clean up America’s waters. Last June 2nd, El Diario La Prensa reported (translation via New America Media):
NEW ORLEANS — As oil escapes from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico and washes up on the coasts of Louisiana, hundreds of Latinos are working hard on the clean-up efforts.
Among them are 40 women. They are part of a group of 500 people who are preparing the dam near Hopedale, two hours from New Orleans, for the arrival of the oil slick. These 40 workers are employees of the subcontractor Tamara’s Group, which was contracted by the company Oil Mop.
..and what are the thank you’s that they are getting for risking their health?
Exhibit A. AlterNet post: [Conservative] Cato Scholar Jokes About Using Undocumented Immigrants to Soak Up BP’s Oil.
Exhibit B. Mother Jones’ report: ICE Running Immigration Raids on Oil-Spill Workers.
The gulf needs all the help that it can get, but it seems that the usual corporate exploitation of workers is unsurprisingly taking precedence over good will. We need solutions to this disaster and we need them fast. In fact, In light of all this urgency, the cleanup activities have been downright chaotic (as reported by The New York Times), to say the least. Rachel Maddow on her blog highlights the conditions in which community members are forced to take actions into their own hands:
The local communities and shore areas most directly affected by the oil have been left, essentially, to fend for themselves. It’s a disgrace, it’s been a disgrace for weeks, and it needs to be fixed.
Many commentators on the media argue that there are no true experts on how to deal with an oil explosion of this magnitude and so that makes the President’s job all the harder. That may be partly true, but it ignores one key point that is not getting much play in the news: the expertise that does exist, is, in fact, not being tapped into. Yes, that may be hard to believe, but it is something that is well-known among in the environmental circles and that the White House for some reason seems to be oblivious to. Perhaps James Carville expressed best the urgent need for Obama to put an expert in charge. Prior to Obama’s more public engagement in the crisis, Carville said the following during an interview with Good Morning America (Via the raw story):
[...] The political stupidity of this is just unbelievable…
[...] Here you have a situation where you have eleven hard-working people blown off [an oil rig in the gulf] as a result of corporate malfeasance and maybe criminal negligence as a result of inept bureaucrats who were part of the — you can actually blame the previous Administration for this [...]
[...] These people are crying, they’re begging for something down here and he just looks like he’s not involved in this. Man, you got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this thing moving. We’re about to die down here.
Let me be frank: I am not a fan of Carville. His connections with the conservative arm of the Democratic Party, the DLC, have always irked me. However, I think James Carville made great points during his interview. He was absolutely right in saying that there needs to be a person put in charge by Obama. The person in charge should be someone that actually has expertise, unlike the mish-mash of bureacrats that have been handling the situation up to this point. In fact, word on the environmental circles is that the White House has virtually shut the Environmental Protection Agency out of the cleanup decision making process. In case you didn’t know, the EPA is the one agency in the nation that has the most expertise on oil spills and pollution response. Yet, the White House for some reason seems to be tying their hands! The current Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, would make an excellent choice to lead the cleanup efforts. Mark Gold, President of the Southern California-based environmental organization Heal the Bay had the following to say on Huffington Post:
Change the face of the federal response. Lisa Jackson is telegenic, bright, articulate, a Princeton graduate in chemical engineering, a specialist in toxics, and a Louisiana native! What more can you possibly ask for? Oh yeah. She runs the agency with the most oil spill and pollution response expertise: the EPA. A Hollywood casting call wouldn’t give you a better candidate to lead the cleanup effort. The buddy team for 2010 should be Lisa J. and Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. The public doesn’t want to see anyone from the MMS. Jane Lubchenko and the NOAA folks are mainly needed to trot out the latest scientific findings. And the other secretaries and special assistants just aren’t as reassuring to the public as Jackson. Stick a Saints hat on her head, give her some real authority beyond regulating dispersants, and let her lead. She will not disappoint.
It’s time to get our act together. Instead of raiding Latinos and other immigrants, we need to ensure that all workers and volunteers are protected. We need to make sure the cleanup efforts have the proper expertise and leadership behind them. We need to get our priorities straight. We need to protect America from the oil industry’s poisonous greed.