Friday, July 09, 2010

'Come to Jesus ' Friday; July 9 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Weekend Oilcast.

Blue Angels weekend looks like it will come off in weather good enough for the "high" show, although small, short squalls can and do randomly pop up just about any time in summer. Winds will be relatively light, but predominantly WSW and SW. Click on the screenshot of Windmapper's animation (left) to see the predicted direction of winds about an hour before Saturday's air show.

Pensacola Pass and all of Santa Rosa Island are within the northeastern-most quadrant of NOAA's projected on surface oil forecast. Still, there's reason to hope the heaviest oil mats may stay far enough offshore to miss the beach.

These days, scattered tarballs and oily mousse washing ashore are always a possibility. As you cast an eye upwards to watch the Blue Angels' high jinks, keep the other eye aimed straight at the ground in front of you to avoid stepping in goo.

2. Tarball Lanza.

You know about Typhoid Mary. Was she guilty or innocent? Historians and public health officials still debate it.

Escambia County's health director, Dr. John Lanza, is in danger of getting a similar rep. Is he scandalously promoting tourism on our oil-fouled beaches? Or, is he innocently advancing public health with ambiguous "oil impact" notices?

However you resolve it, the local health department is making more national news. Today, ProPublica takes the county to task, based mostly on last week's Christian Science Monitor article which we mentioned the other day. ["Despite Tar Balls and Health Complaints, Florida Beaches Stay Open"]:
At Pensacola Beach and others in Escambia County, Fla., health officials have said that some 400 people reported feeling sick after swimming along the Gulf coast, where the county's Citizen Information Center said that "sporadic tar balls" continue to wash ashore. But in the face of concern about the economic damage that would be caused by beach closings, the beaches remain open despite a warning from Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson that the waters appeared unsafe and an oil impact notice posted by the county's health department.
In fairness, ProPublica should have done its own research. Between the date of the Monitor report and today, the county issued a press release claiming the number of people made sick by oil on the beach are many fewer than 400. As William at North Escambia County reported yesterday:
After some media organizations reported that swimming in Escambia County’s Gulf waters had sickened 400 people in one week, the Escambia County Health Department has issued a press release disputing the information.

“Recent news stories reported that 400 individuals complained of health problems after swimming in Escambia’s Gulf waters for one week. This is incorrect. The 400 individuals reporting sickness were for the period of April 1 – June 22, 2010 nationwide to the National Poison Data System.
The true figures, claims the county, for the period May 10-July 7 are: 5 reports of patient symptoms thought to be oil-related from "emergency department reports" and 22 from the Florida Poison Information Center Network (FPICN).

Not as bad as 400, certainly, but plenty high once you realize the reporting period covers only a month or so of the high season for tourism after school had let out.

On the third hand, we haven't seen any public health department notices on Pensacola Beach warning that even EPA director Lisa Jackson "wouldn't go into the water" when she was here.

3. Pollyanna No More.

Dr. Lanza surely knows, too, as Enid Sisskin has been warning, that what you don't see can be worse for you than the tarballs you do see. BP's strategy of widely dispersing the oil leak at the source with its own trademarked dispersant, Corexit 9500, is for superficial public relations -- not your good health. Millions of gallons of highly dispersed oil and "the introduction of chemicals to disperse it," as Joel Achenbach pointed out in May, have thrown the Gulf ecosystem into "chaos."

For almost a month, now, NOAA director Jane Lubchenco has been walking back her earlier adamant denials that the microscopic toxic oil particles now lurking beneath in Gulf waters can be harmful. Yesterday, in a CNN interview she finally changed her tune altogether:
In an afternoon public interview with NBC newswoman Andrea Mitchell at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Lubchenco said the tar balls and black oil now washing up in all five coastal gulf states may not be the worst of what’s coming out of BP’s broken Deepwater Horizon well.
* *
"That layer is introducing a lot of carbon into this ecosystem and we don’t know what the fate of that will be,” she explained, describing the cloud as “highly toxic and undoubtedly poisonous.”

“This is really unprecedented ... . It is not like a black ooze that’s down there, it’s this cloud of fine mist and its impact is likely to be considerable,” she said.
Better late than never, we want to say to both Ms. Lubchenco and Dr. Lanza.

4. Crist Has Another 'Come to Jesus' Moment.

It's remarkable what wonders are worked when a politician is freed from the intellectual prison of a relentlessly stupid, reality-indifferent political party. Since leaving the Florida Republican Party before he was expelled for Tea Party apostasy, Governor Crist has --Now, in the wake of the BP catastrophe the governor has called a special session of the state legislature in order to put on November's ballot a constitutional amendment which would ban oil drilling off Florida's shores. Bryan over at Why Now? has the good news -- and then some.

As he points out, the Republican majority in the legislature was on the verge of 'sneaking' into law a new statute which would have opened all of the Florida coastline to drilling when BP's Deepwater Horizon well blew up:
[They] didn’t pull the bill to open the coast to drilling until after the Well from Hell blew up. They tried to sneak it in without debate because it was backed by the Republican leadership in the legislature.
Now, of course, state Republicans are claiming that since we already have an older state statute that bans drilling, there's no need for a constitutional amendment to make it permanent. What they won't acknowledge is that they are all but certain to try again next year and only a constitutional amendment can stop them.

It is elementary "Government 101" that the state constitution trumps state statutes. If a drilling ban is added to the state constitution, it could not be erased as this year's Republican majority nearly did without voter approval.

That's what makes the quoted reactions of Pensacola area state representatives so outlandishly deceptive. Click on the graphic (above) from today's Pensacola News Journal to see what three of them are saying.
  • Rep. Dave Murzin (R-Pensacola) claims, in predictably ungrammatical style, "Us banning something that's already illegal in the state of Florida doesn't help the situation."
  • Rep. Greg Evers (R-Baker): "It's already banned." Yeah, but only until your "drill, baby, drill" crowd gets back into session next year.
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach): "The constitution is not the appropriate place to resolve that question. It's not the place to debate the hot issues of the day."
Holy mother of oil spills! Either these guys are all blatantly lying -- and they know it -- or they are so utterly ignorant of the rudiments of law making that they should be completely disqualified from any public office higher than tarball spotter.

5. Hornbeck Offshore Oil Services, L.L.C. vs. Salazar.

The decision of a three-member panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals not to overturn a lower court's injunction against enforcement of the Interior Department's temporary drilling ban in the Gulf is an abomination. As the Government's brief explains, the temporary drilling was discrete and limited:
Interior reviewed information from scientists, industry, and agency experts in considering its course of action, and tailored its regulatory response to address the concerns it identified. The challenged suspension orders target only those deepwater operations that present safety concerns similar to those raised by the Deepwater Horizon event. In all, 33 drilling rigs were actively engaged in deepwater operations at the time of the issuance of [Salazar's order] -- a small fraction of the approximately 3,600 structures in the Gulf dedicated to offshore oil exploration and production.
This is the central finding of the 2 to 1 majority decision:
The motion for stay pending appeal is denied because the Secretary has failed to demonstrate a likelihood of irreparable injury if the stay is not granted; he has made no showing that there is any likelihood that drilling activities will be resumed pending appeal.
"Judges," the great Oliver Wendell Holmes once said with considerable authority, "are apt to be naïf, simple-minded men... . [They] need education in the obvious." (Holmes, Law and the Court: Speeches, 1934).

There is so much wrong with the court panel's abbreviated ruling that it would take a lawyer's brief to demonstrate it all (and you can be sure one will be coming to the full 5th Circuit Court panel).

First, as almost everyone in the world knows, the irreparable nature of a broken oil well in the deepwater Gulf has been demonstrated minute by minute over the past 81 days. It poses not a "likelihood" of irreparable injury, but a virtual certainty. The panel sorely lacks the very kind of "education in the obvious" of which Holmes spoke.

Second, the court panel turned the legal issue before them completely on its head. In the process, it also twisted the procedural history of the case inside out.

As Holly Doremus points out at Legal Planet, the case was filed initially by the oil industry to overturn an administrative order of the Secretary of Interior. Well before trial, it was the oil industry parties, not Salazar, who asked for a preliminary injunction to restrain enforcement of the order while the underlying case is pending trial.

The district court granted it and effectively 'blocked' the Secretary's order, wrongly as Doremus concludes. To reach that wrong result, the district court was required by civil rules and precedents too numerous to mention to find, among other things, that without the preliminary injunction the plaintiffs in the oil industry would suffer "irreparable injury," not Secretary Salazar. It is this finding that was appealed to the Fifth Circuit panel.

As Doremus writes --
In order to obtain an injunction, plaintiffs were required to show that they would suffer irreparable harm if the moratorium were left in place. Plaintiffs, it is worth noting, do not hold any Gulf leases. They provide services that support drilling, but they have no control over whether drilling goes forward, with or without a moratorium. They offered no evidence that drilling would proceed if the moratorium were lifted. In fact, as the US pointed out in its motion for a stay--

In conceding that Interior’s suspension orders would not cause it any irreparable injury, Hornbeck [Offshore Services, the lead plaintiff] necessarily admits that a temporary stay of the district court’s injunction would cause it no harm either.

It is true that the most likely large oil company drillers have been observing a voluntary halt to new deepwater drilling (more for PR reasons than any other, we suspect). Consequently, the court's action probably is of little practical effect. Still, it should be of concern to all to see such sloppy pettifoggery employed to halt reasonable government efforts to force a pause in the destruction of the planet.

Perhaps the world ends neither by fire nor by ice, as Frost would have had it, but by feckless judicial decrees written by judges who own stock in the companies that are killing the planet.


BLehman said...

Every politician who opposes the constitutional amendment to ban drilling should be thrown out of office.

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