By Danny R. Johnson
The fallout from the April 22, 2010 explosion of the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil platform continues to be felt all along the Gulf Coast and in the halls of Congress. There are over 20 congressional oversight committees looking into what caused the explosion that took the lives of 11 people, injured dozens of workers and leaving in its midst an environmental nightmare unimaginable since the 1989 Exxon Valdez debacle.
What is most ironic about this story is that there is a consistent deafening silence among key Democratic representatives and senators who chair the powerful committees which oversees all aspects of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Many liberal environmental watchdogs are privately and publicly asking the question: Has the Democratic Party Become Hostage to Big Oil Money?
Historically, the Republican Party has consistently been described by the liberal media as the “standard- bearer” of big business. Big money. Heaps of influence peddling by prominent Republicans for the crusade against less regulations and more “drill baby drill” have been the slogans for the Republican Party. While the Democratic Party was perceived as the champion of the “little guy” and always against the “evil influences of big business.”
The unfolding scandal at the Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS) is the kind of story that guarantees front-page play. There is just one hitch: it’s yesterday’s news. All that murky bureaucratic back scratching and buck passing happened during the heyday of then President George W. Bush’s Administration. Where was the ever vigilant press back then? The only difference this time around is that the MMS scandal is unfolding under a Democratic administration. If I can borrow the old proverbial saying, “tell me it ain’t so Joe.”
How could the National Press Corp not see this environmental disaster coming over the horizon? How could a Democratic controlled Congress not see that the lack of oversight, or in this case, the absence of enforcing the laws on the books, would someday lead to the Nightmare on Elm Street scenario we are experiencing along the Gulf Coast? The short answer: The Congress, the American people, and the National Press Corp were asleep at the wheel.
It’s easy to forget some oil spill called Exxon Valdez, which happened some 21 years ago. And besides, it occurred in some distant place called Alaska, which is far from the sunny beaches of the Gulf Coast and Florida. Almost 8,000 reporters used to prowl the nation’s capital during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office, and many Washington insiders knew what any inquisitive reporter should have known: MMS, with its million-dollar contracts, was a feeding trough. Everybody who talked about MMS during President Bush’s eight years reign knew there was money to be made. Despite recurring gossip about payoffs and even some hard evidence, the nation’s best TV news organizations, newspapers and newsmagazines failed to report the corruption at MMS until September 9, 2008, when then Department of the Interior Inspector General, Earl E. Devaney, released the department’s internal investigation of MMS — then the Washington Press Corp sprung into action.
The entire episode says a great deal about shortcomings in the way the press covers Government. Somebody, an editor or a reporter should have said, `where is the money going?’, ‘who is benefiting from these oil and natural gas leases?’, and ‘are the laws and regulations being followed?’
In order to better comprehend how we got into the mess we now find ourselves in, we need to go back to the beginning stages of this “scandalous courtship with Big Oil,” as consumer advocate Ralph Nader describes it.
During the time that President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both of whom were former oil executives before taking office, were in the White House, the oil and gas industry spent $400 million on lobbying the federal government. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the industry contributed $82 million to federal candidates, parties and political action committees. The Center estimates that 80 percent of the industry’s contribution went to Republicans. This support did not go unnoticed. In 2005, President Bush, who had received more from the oil and gas industry than any other politician while he was in office, signed an energy bill from the Republican-controlled Congress that gave $14 billion in tax breaks for oil, gas, nuclear power and coal companies.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was based on recommendations by Vice President Cheney’s energy task force, also rolled back regulations the oil industry considered burdensome, including exemptions from some clean water laws. All of this transpired only one year after Congress passed a bill that included a tax cut for domestic manufacturing that was expected to save energy companies at least $4 billion over a decade. From that point you could start the countdown to the present day disaster we are witnessing in the Gulf Coast.
The industry is worried that there is an anti-oil legislation of all types presently making its way before congressional subcommittees. Despite the oil spill and the on-going problems it presents, Big Oil is supporting its partner, BP, and pushing for increased domestic production of energy, specifically permission to drill in certain coastal areas that have been off limits. The industry will fight “tooth-and-nail” to slow down and defeat any legislation that calls for clean energy solutions that the public wants.
Big Oil and the gas industry have learned to adapt to the shifting political realities in Washington. The lobbying conglomerates for Big Oil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, have shifted some donations from the Republicans to Democrats. But it is clear that the industry strongly prefers to have Republicans in power, but the industries have agreed to focus on short-term advantages. In the short-term now Democrats hold the majorities in both houses; presumably until after the November 2010 midterm elections when the Republicans hope to regain its majority status in the Senate. The industry is looking for a deadlock Congress when it will be certain nothing will get done.
According to an article in the May 12, 2010 The Guardian, evidence is surfacing that the stonewalling tactics Big Oil and the gas industries have implemented are already operational. The article pointed out this fact: “…America’s oil, gas and coal industry has increased its lobbying budget by 50%, with key players spending $44.5m in the first three months of this year in an intense effort to cut off support for Barack Obama’s plan to build a clean energy economy.
A defeat for the bill would have global consequences. The international community is depending on America, as the world’s biggest per capita polluter, to set out a firm plan for getting off dirty fuels in the months before crucial UN negotiations in Copenhagen in December . Without such action, the chances of getting a deal those scientists say is vital to limiting dangerous climate change are much reduced.”
This is precisely what Big Oil has in mind: Stonewall, obstruct and kill any legislation that goes against their financial interest.
Are there any lessons to be learned from the deafening silence among Big Oil executives and their ardent supporters? The lesson is this: Just because something is silent, that doesn’t mean it’s asleep.