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The Curse of Crude

POSTED: May 28, 2010, 12:00 am

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Like the damage caused by the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989, the oil, seeping into the Gulf Coast from a busted BP Oil pipeline will haunt the nation for some time to come. The long-term environmental damage is becoming obvious by the hour. However, the psychological wound from the spill will have an equally damaging effect on Americans. Once again, we are betrayed by petroleum, the fluid that gave life to the industrial revolution while at the same time making the United States oil dependent with a Texas size habit. It is a cruel joke made even cruder (pun intended) by the fact that America cannot kick its oil habit.

There is no doubt the BP oil spill gives Republicans on Capitol Hill and in Gulf Coast states some red meat on which to chew out the Obama administration. In many ways by echoing Democrats’ criticism of President Bush during Hurricane Katrina, in faulting President Obama’s handling of the crisis, Republicans are salivating over their “Katrina opportunity.” Much like the criticism hurled at President Bush and FEMA by Democrats during the historic storm of 2005, the current administration is under siege for what some perceive to be a slow response. President Obama attempted to allay those concerns during his press conference yesterday. The irony is the Republican critique of Mr. Obama is that the government should take control of the clean-up effort, in contradiction to the “less government and more market” mantra we have heard from the GOP for decades.

We concur with the suggestion that the federal government has to be more aggressive in tackling this crisis, but for different reasons than Republican partisans. We simply don’t trust BP.

“Our nation became so obese off petroleum that we could not push ourselves away from the table. Now bloated, the meal that looked so good, for so long is killing us.”

Politics aside for the moment, do we now understand the curse of the crude? Our nation became so obese off petroleum that we could not push ourselves away from the table. Now bloated, the meal that looked so good, for so long is killing us. Wars are fought over it. Our environment is damaged by it. Our economy lives and dies by it. Still, we have not made a real national commitment to wean ourselves off it. As much as BP Oil is responsible for the 19 million gallons of oil polluting the Gulf, Americans share some of the blame for our dependency on petroleum and our refusal to invest in real energy alternatives.

For the moment, the Obama administration has to fix this, and fix this quick. President Obama spoke truthfully that the government does not possess the technology or machinery to plug the leak, BP Oil does. However, the federal government does have the power to assess penalties so deep that the company will be motivated to stop the leak and implement an unprecedented cleanup. There should be no letting up on BP until their job is finished, and that may be for years to come. Mr. Obama’s call for a moratorium on offshore drilling is also appropriate and we should use to time when those rigs are shut down to seriously assess whether the industry is sufficiently regulated.

No matter how much Hill Republicans try to make the oil spill a partisan burden, Congress needs to show some real leadership and consider how this disaster speaks to the need for real energy reform in the United States. As long as oil is king, we run the risk of environmental disasters such as the one unfolding in the Gulf. It is time our nation took seriously the idea of energy alternatives and Americans begin to make different choices about their personal energy consumption.

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