"New-born babies who entered the world and drew their very first breath this week will be weaned from mother's milk, learn to walk, use a toilet, enter kindergarten, advance through college and law school, and some day they will become corporate lawyers assigned to the very same litigation cases against BP that began with the oil well blow-out of April 20, 2010."We've wondered before about NOAA's top administrator, Jane Lubchenco. We suggested she may be a "What, Me Worry?" administrator. More pointedly, on another occasion we accused her of poorly serving President Obama.
Now, things are getting more serious. The redoubtable reporter Dan Froomkin late yesterday as much as accused her of hiding an ocean of evidence that the Gulf oil leak is far worse than BP Corporation will admit:
Despite more than three weeks of accumulating scientific evidence that gargantuan plumes of oil lurk beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico -- presenting an imminent threat to sea life and a possibly decades-long threat to the nation's coastlines -- NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco on Wednesday refused to contradict BP CEO Tony Hayward's statement over the weekend that "the oil is on the surface" and "there aren't any plumes."From the beginning Lubchenco has insisted on playing the part of Pollyanna. When scientists warned that a large plume of oil had been entrained in the Florida Loop Current, she poo-pooed the idea as unproven. When other scientists warned that they had detected huge lakes of oil below the surface of the Gulf, she brazenly disputed the assertion, mischaracterized the scientists' vessel as one belonging to NOAA, and stopped just short of accusing the working scientists of malpractice.
As Froomkin writes, however, the evidence is mounting that it is Lubchenco who is out of step with the scientific world, and not the world of science that's out of step with her. If one were to look anywhere in the federal bureaucracy for an example of someone who has -- in President Obama's confessional words as he spoke in Louisiana the other day-- taken "too long" to measure the size of the spill, NOAA administrator Lubchenco would be foremost among them.
As Froomkin writes --
[S]cientists on NOAA and academic research vessels have been reporting since the week of May 10 that they have spotted -- and sampled -- oil suspended in the water column. And the Huffington Post has learned that lab results from a previously secret NOAA research mission have been analyzed; its results just haven't been made public.Lubchenco has a closet full of academic and other awards. On paper, she doubtless looked terrific. But her performance in handling the oil spill truly has been baffling.
And what others call oil, she calls "anomalies."
She finds herself disagreeing even with the "living legend" of oceanography, Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist at NOAA. As CNN has reported, Sylvia Earle told a congressional committee "that asking for BP to play a leading role in containment efforts was akin to 'relying on the foxes to look after the chicken coop.'"
The fundamental disagreement seems to be over BP's use of dispersants. Scientists almost universally condemn it. The unprecedented volume of toxic dispersants BP has been using to reduce the size of oil droplets, combined with the unique approach of applying them in mile-deep water at the wellhead, has them worried about the long-term consequences to both sea- and human life. Says Sylvia Earle:
"The lack of knowing [the extent of the spill and the damage] is something that we should fear." We lack of understanding what the consequences of this action really will be to the ocean and then back to ourselves."
Lubchenco, by contrast, has been stoutly defending BP's use of the dispersants with the zeal of a corporate defense lawyer. She "signed off on BP’s use dispersants as a necessary part of the company’s damage-control strategy... ." She belittled, misrepresented, and dismissed out of hand the scientific work of squads of independent experts.
And now comes word, via Froomkin, that her agency secretly commissioned a research vessel, the Jack Fitz, three weeks ago. It has taken water samples "up and down the water column near the Deepwater Horizon spill site." Those samples have been analyzed, processed, and logged. But Lubchenco refuses to publicly release the results.
Moreover, as it appears from Froomkin's sources, she is muzzling scientists who were allowed on board NOAA's research vessels. Texas oceanography professor Steven DiMarco told Rachel Maddow NOAA has "quarantined" his data and he may not be allowed to release it until "liability" issues have been resolved.
That won't happen in his lifetime, much less that of Lubchenko. If the Exxon Valdez oil spill case is any guide, new-born babies who entered the world and drew their very first breath this week will be weaned from mother's milk, learn to walk, use a toilet, enter kindergarten, advance through college and law school, and some day they will become corporate lawyers assigned to the very same continuing cases against BP that began with the oil well blow-out of April 20, 2010.
It is a complete mystery why the top administrator of the nation's Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would want to keep scientific data on the size, nature, and dangerousness of the oil pollution from the public. The information soon will be known to BP, anyway, if it isn't already. BP's billions in quarterly profits already have hired enough scientists to fill every hole in the ocean. The corporation's legions of lawyers will soon be getting their own hands on the research results through the usual pre-trial discovery processes.
Only the people who will have to live with and clean up the mess are being left in the dark.
Lubchenco's behavior is a mystery; a mystery, that is, unless as Froomkin writes, "it is official NOAA policy to minimize the nature of the threat posed" by the leaking oil. In which event, everything administrator Lubchenco has said and done makes perfect sense. She and BP are making common cause against we, the people.
Which leaves only one last question unanswered: Why does President Obama stand for it?