Wednesday, June 30, 2010
First we went to "East Park," the county-owned beach just beyond Portofino. There, what we found washing ashore in the churning surf were large and small black tarballs of weathered oil mixed with fresh orange oil mousse in patties as large and thick as a three-pound package of ground hamburger.
Hurricane Alex is hundreds of miles to our west. Just try to imagine what things will look like if a hurricane comes close to or strikes Pensacola Beach.
Later, we traveled to Ft. Pickens Gate Park, the picnic area on the western-most side of Pensacola Beach. The surf there was slightly more vigorous. Thick, heavy streaks of orange mousse over-washed the entire beach, from the surf to forty yards or more inland.
A small regiment of bulldozers was trying to scrape the surface clean. But their heavy tracks left behind evidence that much more oil lies just beneath the thin veneer they'd scraped.
Click on the photo below to see a closeup:
As we were leaving an eleven year old boy "going on twelve," who was visiting with a dozen family members from Oklahoma, proudly showed us his new collection of oil refuse.
"What are you going to do with it?" we asked.
""I'm gonna show it around and keep it," he answered.
"It's a souvenier," his mother said proudly. "We'll split it up so everybody in the family has some."
"It's historic," added the father.
"It also contains carcinogens," we pointed out.
"Really?" the mother gasped. "No one told us that."
Alex is officially a hurricane. The storm is expected to make landfall near the Texas-Mexican border "late tonight or early Thursday morning," NHC's early morning advisory says. It likely will continue to strengthen as it hits the mainland.
Locally, Pensacola is well away from the projected wind field, but the Mobile NOAA regional weather center expects higher than normal tides and "rough surf and breaking waves" along area beaches. "Brief wind gusts from 25 to 35 mph and locally heavy rain will be the main threat in passing bands."
Mobile NOAA adds, "winds and waves will abate to close out the week."
2. CTD Lessons from Alaska.
Erin Kourkounis of the PNJ covered a BRACE luncheon talk by Prof. Steve Picou of the University of South Alabama. Prof. Picou is a sociologist. He's tracked indicators of community stress and decline in various towns near the Exxon Valdez oil spill site for a quarter century in such articles as "The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Chronic Psychological Stress," co-authored with Duane Gill in 1996.
Kourkounis sums it up well in the lede: "Depression. Domestic violence. Rising divorce rates. Growing feelings of mistrust. Suicides. Substance abuse."
That could well be a litany applied to any number of American towns, big and small, which once flourished and later fell on hard times or disappeared altogether. Think Lynn, Massachusetts; Centralia, Pennsylvania, Gary, Indiana; Galena, Illinois; Times Beach, Missouri; Bisbee, Arizona, Bodie, California.
Some of these towns have survived as mere shells of their former selves, others are now ghost towns. Each was undone by a different cause: a shift in manufacturing, advances in transportation technology that passed them by, ecological disaster, the abuse and eventual disappearance of natural wonders, and so on.
Yet, as Gunter, Aronoff, and Joel argued in a useful article some years ago ["Toxic Contamination and Communities"], there is something special about decline due to "chronic technological disasters (CTD)". Thanks to BP's massive oil spill, Pensacola -- indeed, the whole Florida panhandle -- faces the real danger of a decades-long decline. County and town leaders need to see this clearly and squarely address it.
The first step, we think, is to resist ineffectual boosterism and put at least as much energy and effort into understanding how other towns have handled CTD's, where some went wrong, and why others succeeded. There is a rich professional literature on the subject. Inviting experts like Steve Picou and a host of others is a part of that first step, but only a part.
3. NBC on Pensacola Beach.
Brian Williams did two segments on Pensacola Beach for NBC's Evening News last night and anchored a third on the oil spill in Louisiana. View the beach excerpts here and here. If there is one thing he proved from his station high above the eastern portion of Pensacola Beach, it's that the county health department needs to get the lead out of its britches and begin directly monitoring the quality of beach water and sand.
4. Tarballs Everywhere.
Front page headlines in the PNJ today include the news that Navarre Beach is experiencing "plate size tarballs" of oil. It is the largest oil detritus so far to wash ashore at Navarre Beach.
As reporter Louis Cooper notes, however, Navarre Beach is not alone:
[T]ar balls continued to wash ashore on Escambia County beaches Tuesday. Aerial reconnaissance flights observed streamers of mousse and sliver sheen hovering just offshore near Johnson Beach, Fort Pickens and Pensacola Beach, Escambia County5. Navarre Beach Daily Beach Report.
Cooper also reports on an unsurprising innovation tourist promoters have started at Navarre Beach: daily video updates on the condition of the surf and sand:
People concerned about the impact of the ongoing BP oil spill on Navarre Beach have a new, daily online resource.That's the spin, anyway. Listen to the current report and you get a lot of 'happy-happy' beach talk mixed with some generalized info about the current state of tarballs and oil sheen.
Santa Rosa County public information officials on Monday began compiling a daily video report on conditions at the beach. The report will be posted at www.santarosa.fl.gov/oilspill by noon, Monday through Friday.
"I receive phone calls from people every day, from locals and out-of-towners who want to know what the beach conditions are like as it relates to the oil crisis," said Santa Rosa Public Information Officer Joy Tsubooka."With the video beach updates, it gives people one more tool to receive information and make decisions, especially for those who live out of town and may only see national coverage and get the impression that Santa Rosa County beaches and fishing areas are not open," she said.
Can't blame them for that. Promoting tourism isn't a news assignment. Besides, anyone adept enough with a computer or PDA who manages to navigate to www.santarosa.fl.gov/oilspill hardly can miss the fact they're getting a large dose of spin with their tarballs.
What's surprising is the inconvenient technology and the venue, half-hidden inside a government agency web site. Any "out of towners " looking for a video about beach conditions are far more likely to check in at YouTube or one of the dozen other popular video sites where residents and recent beach visitors are busy posting their own mini-movies -- like this one.
There are many more video sharing sites than YouTube, too. None of them is a Santa Rosa county web site. Check out the Top Ten or even the top fifty.
As for technology, many more potential visitors are using a browser already equipped with a Flash video player, instead of the odious RealPlayer, often ranked as one of the "25 worst tech products of all time."
Memo to Local Tourist Promoters: Whether you're sharing facts or blowing sand in the eyes of potential tourists, you need to go to the Internet places they inhabit and use the technical tools they prefer.
6. The Futility of Lying About Beach Conditions.
The persistent failure of Escambia County health and beach administration officials to tell the unvarnished truth about the oil disaster on Pensacola Beach is being noticed.
Ellen Klas, the estimable reporter who often covers Northwest Florida stories for the St. Petersburg Times, reports on the stunned reactions of Pensacola Beach residents when they see what BP's spill has done to the beach ["Oil Blankets Pensacola Beach"]. Aptly, she records the shattered dreams of beach goers in what we took, at first, to be a kind of sing-song rhythm reminiscent of Ding Dong School's "Miss Francis:"
Here came Courtney Laczko, 16 and sunkissed, who has been coming to the beach almost every morning since school let out because she knew the days were numbered.On reflection, perhaps Klas' tone is less like the always-sunny Miss Francis than it is the ominous voice of Mathew Arnold in his The Forsaken Mermen:
"It's actually really here," she kept saying.
She thought about the dolphins and how she used to pretend they were a happy little family. She thought about the time her mom wasn't working and she took the kids to the beach every day. Bologna sandwiches and Capri Sun in the cooler.
"It was always the prettiest beach around here. You can't say that anymore."
Here came Kathy Allen, 15 and native. She thought about that night in November, after the homecoming dance, when a boy named Dakota leaned in and kissed her lips, her first ever, and how the stars seemed so bright and sparkly.
Here came Stef Ackerman, 22 and tattooed, who learned to fish here and surf here. He walked to the oil and squatted and ran his finger up under his sunglasses. He thought about all those journeys to the beach with his dad to watch the Blue Angels zing down the shoreline and about that fishing trip when his older brother came home from war. How they talked and fished all day.
This? He doesn't know how to process it.
"I don't know what to do," he said. "I don't know if anybody knows what to do."
Call her once before you go--Whatever her inspiration, Klas' article is worth a read.
Call once yet!
In a voice that she will know:
Children's voices should be dear
(Call once more) to a mother's ear;
Children's voices, wild with pain--
Surely she will come again!
Call her once and come away;
This way, this way!
"Mother dear, we cannot stay!
The wild white horses foam and fret."
Come, dear children, come away down;
Call no more!
One last look at the white-wall'd town,
And the little gray church on the windy shore;
Then come down!
She will not come though you call all day;
Come away, come away!
We normally do not pay much attention to eschatologists. But Elizabeth Pratta has an insight into Pensacola Beach prevaricating that's also worth mentioning:
I wish that the first priority of the officials was the protection of our society's most vulnerable. But it isn't. It's money. They store up money...at the expense of the lives and the health of their brothers and sisters on this earth. Perilous times indeed.7. Boosters and Beach Business.
Historians also have much to contribute to the discussion, too. If there is one loud and clear lesson to take away from the bulk of the historical CTD studies we have read it's this: blatant boosterism never works.
As Carl Abbott writes in "Boosters and Businessmen," public discourse on economic growth in hard times as well as good too commonly seems to have the purpose of aiding individual business enterprises "rather than the interests of the larger community." Or, to paraphrase another scholar's unpublished dissertation on CTDs (Daniel Aaron), what passes for "vision" in times of town crisis often means little more than expressions of blind faith in real estate, T-shirt shops, and the hotel business.
minor edit 6-30 am
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
And in case you're wondering, that oil Brian finds on the beach is well east of the Fishing Pier. Are you watching, Dr. Lanza?
The National Hurricane Center still is predicting tropical storm Alex will make landfall considerably to the west of Pensacola Beach, somewhere along the Texas-Mexico border. It likely will arrive there at the start of the Fourth of July weekend. The storm reached near hurricane strength, as of 10 am EDT Tuesday.
2. Buffett Concert Delayed.
Jimmy Buffett's free Alabama beach concert has been postponed to Sunday, July 11. The expressed concern is that soon-to-be Hurricane Alex may cause "large and destructive waves" which might swamp the temporary beach stage planned for Orange Beach.
Although the storm likely will make landfall well to the West of Orange Beach, Alabama, it has a large and growing wind field which also could dump a fair amount of rain as far east as the central Gulf Coast. Country Music Television, which had planned to cable-cast and net-cast a 90-minute portion of the event, says it is still working on a revised schedule.
3. Joe Biden in Pensacola today.
Vice-president Joe Biden will be in Pensacola today. He is scheduled to "speak to the media" at Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS).
Accompanying the vice-president, the Mobile Register reports, will be Biden will be joined by NationalIncident Commander Admiral Thad Allen and NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco. Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who is now running as an Independent for the vacant U.S. Senate seat, changed his plans yesterday and will accompany the vice-president, the St. Petersburg Times "Buzz" blog reports.
A personal visit to Pensacola Beach is not precluded, but for now such a thing isn't on the announced schedule.
Current weather conditions may govern whether he makes any other local stops. It's overcast this morning and chances of rain in Pensacola are pegged at 60% today.
According to the original White House announcement, Biden is here to "assess efforts to counter the BP oil spill." The most recent issue of GOSPORT, the local Navy base newspaper, reported "little new oil" was found near N.A.S. last week and "the oil has been kept away from the delicate ecosystem around the base."
[O]il operations within sight of the base continue. BP has hired hundreds of contract workers in response to the April 20 drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people.4. Pensacola Beach Health Warning.
For the past week some of those BP workers have been seen around the base, either skimming out in the waters or picking up pieces of oil from the shore.
The oil recovery process around the base has been going as good as can be expected, Fenters said. During a recent three to four-day period, BP contract skimmers were able to pick up only about two barrels of oil after skimming an area three miles out from the base [Emergency Manager Burt] Fenters said. There was not a lot of the thick oil out there or closer to the base, but tar balls can still be found, Fenters said.
Dr. John Lanza's county health department at long last yesterday issued a health advisory that warns beach goers "immediately" not enter the water along an eight mile stretch from "the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier west to Pensacola Pass," including all of Ft. Pickens.
The warning came "in response to a report by the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center of extensive oil sheen, oil mousse and tar balls." Click here for the full advisory.
There's no telling how they got that one by "Dr." Buck Lee. But, as another quack doctor, Moliere's woodcutter, says:
The dead always keep a civil tongue, they are very decent, indeed. You will never hear them make a complaint against the doctor who killed them.What's peculiar about this is that the county health department warning is not based on any water quality testing of its own. Instead, the health department says it is relying on visual reports from the local Emergency Operations Center. So, what's the human health basis for stopping at the Fishing Pier?
It is true that surfboards are confined to an area west of the fishing bridge. But it's not at all clear the water there is qualitatively any different than on the east side. Certainly, the county health department has not yet publicly released any reliable water sampling that would demonstrate a substantial difference.
If you're going to have a county health department, wouldn't it be better to have one that bases its decisions on what is revealed by medical and environmental science rather than a game of "telephone" with other agencies?
While we were gone, Peter Greenberg published a useful, clear-eyed article for those who feel the urge to volunteer to clean up the oil mess along the Gulf Coast. Some highlights:
- Don’t plan a trip to the Gulf Coast solely to volunteer.
- Volunteer positions with local non-profit organizations "tend to be administrative, like data entry and research." And, we might add, they're mostly clerical and gopher, unless you bring special skills to the Gulf Coast.
- The BP oil catastrophe is "evolving" so there will be plenty of opportunities later. Indeed, unless we miss our guess today's ten year olds may well be filling volunteer needs when they're twenty-five.
- Volunteers assigned to clean-up or animal sanctuary work will face serious health hazards Consult a physician before putting yourself into situations your body will hate you for.
- Locally, "The Gulf Islands National Seashore Visitor Information Center is accepting volunteers who can make a three-hour commitment once a week for three months:
- Never, ever "pay for so-called 'spill training' of any kind -- scammers will charge a fee for non-existent training on how to clean wildlife.
- Avoid solicitations for donations to purchase items such as liquid soap, towels and money; BP is picking up that tab.
Volunteers work in four different locations, including three beaches: Johnson Beach, Langdon Beach, and Opal Beach, and around the piers in the Fort Pickens area. Prospective volunteers attend a training session with the park service to learn how to communicate with visitors.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
As if the Gulf Coast isn't facing enough trouble, the National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Alex strengthened while over Belize last night. This morning, it "looks more like a hurricane than a than a low-end tropical storm."
The NHC adds, "There is at least a moderate likelihood that Alex could become a major hurricane" in the coming week.
Current computer model forecasts do not agree on the storm's ultimate destination now that it is emerging over Gulf waters again. Some have it veering west toward the Mexico-U.S. border, others have it slowing growing stronger for a few days before striking somewhere near the Louisiana-Texas border -- on a path that just about certainly would shut down everything except the oil gusher at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site.
Above is the sunny side forecast. You don't want to see the other one.
2. Oil over troubled waters.
The PNJ's Travis Griggs articulates the question on everyone's mind:
Would a hurricane dilute the oil and speed its breakdown? Or would it pollute bays and the surrounding land and cause health problems for area residents?It's worth while to read the whole article. What you'll find, as with so many other questions raised by BP's criminal negligence, is that no one knows for sure what the answers are, but it sure seems like none of them is good.
3. Destination near.
We're still on the road, but nearing our destination. Altogether, so far we've logged 1300 miles of endless Interstate highways. The relative we're helping is so anxious to reach his new home that we aren't allowed to stop for any sites of interest.
We only slow down, it seems, to refuel the vehicle. Consequently, the only photos we're able to take have to be snapped at 75 mph through the windshield.
4. Public Health Alerter Mystery.
The boring road trip has given us some time to contemplate this from yesterday's PNJ:
Dr. John Lanza, director of the Escambia County Health Department, said he lifted the health advisory on Pensacola Beach today, at the direction of Santa Rosa Island Authority W. A. “Buck” Lee.Wait just a minute, here. Who's on first? Is Dr. John Lanza really the director of the county health department? Or, is he just the office stenographer, paid to transcribe messages from high school grad Buck Lee?
“Today, when I got the call from Buck Lee, he and his staff evaluated beaches and gave me information, and I rescinded the health advisory,” Lanza said.
There was no inspection from Health Department employees. No water testing.
Locals will recognize what's going, although potential visitors to Pensacola Beach may not. This has absolutely nothing to do with public health. It's a game of "Pass the Petroleum Political Problem."
Buck Lee's knowledge about human medicine and public health is so scant you could stuff it in an olive. He isn't even an "executive" director, as he likes to be called. He's just an ol' pol at the end of a long career whose hallmark was to avoid taking responsibility for anything bad that happens.
The last thing Buck Lee wants to do is get blamed by beach businesses for discouraging visitors to Pensacola Beach because the water, surf, and what may lie beneath the sand represent a health hazard to swimmers. Being the wily old Panhandle pol that he is, he knows if the oil really represents a health hazard, somebody somewhere else will eventually have to step in and do the responsible thing.
Lee might well have figured that 'somebody' would be Dr. John Lanza. But Lanza fooled him. He decided not to conduct any public health testing of the beach sand or water. After all, he had Buck Lee 's word for it, "the beach looks clean to me."
That's good enough for medical science, right?
Now, both Lee and Lanza are ducking responsibility. In effect, they're waiting for someone else to do the right thing.
What do you bet it will have to be the feds? And when they shut the beach down because of unhealthy conditions, who will be the first to scream about "federal interference?"
It's a predictable but dangerous strategy Lee and Lanza are playing. What you don't know about public heath could kill you. And these two are doing their best to make sure you don't know anything.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
We're still on the road, but we read that Buck bucked recommendations federal health officials and leaned on the county health department to open
lifted the health advisory on Pensacola Beach early Friday on the advice of
W.A. "Buck" Lee, Santa Rosa Island Authority executive director. Lee said he
made the recommendation based on a visual inspection.
As Kimberly Blair reports, Lee has decided to fly only the 'yellow' flag for 'caution' rather than red flags for 'danger.'
"And that means you need to be careful where you step," Lee is quoted as saying. "Just be careful and have a good time."
Tough to do when everyone else except Buck Lee sees "oil chips, tar balls and submerged oil slicks" on the beach and detects "the odor of petroleum."
Kimberly Blair, again:
[P]eople complained about getting a petroleum jelly-like substance on them from sand that was tainted brown.What in the world are county health officials thinking? They're content to rely on Buck Lee's medical advice in guarding the public's health? That's an oily medical decision they will come to regret.
Swimmers who did venture into the water questioned whether it was really safe to wade, swim and play in the Gulf, especially when they had to walk through a line of tar balls and stay clear of skimmers scooping up oil just 25 and 50 feet from the shore.
"I only went into the water up to my ankles. That's as far as I wanted to go," said Joe Chambers, 28, of West Pensacola as he scrubbed off oily residue from himself and his son, Ethan, 4, in the public showers at Casino Beach. "It doesn't smell like the beach. It smells like a gas station. There are no fish in the water. There's nothing alive in the water. I don't know how public officials can just look at the water and make a call to reopen it for swimming."
Carol Doster of Grand Isle, Miss., said her son Dallas, 12, was frightened by the oil that streaked his legs and arms after a five-minute swim in the Gulf on Friday. "It won't rub off," Doster said.
Buck Lee is the general manager (he likes to call himself "executive director") of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, which governs Pensacola Beach. He's a former county commissioner with lots of political experience, but no particular education for the job in management, public health, or medicine.
He didn't sleep in a Holiday Inn last night, so far as we know, but he does have a history of inviting the public to swim in filthy water. And, he's also good at drawing poor performance reviews.
Here's a suggestion: when everyone except Buck Lee sees oil tarballs on the beach, and many are getting them stuck to their legs and arms, maybe the county health department should test the water, first, before opening it to public use. And, before taking Buck Lee's word for anything he claims he doesn't see, give him an eye examination, would you?
Back on the road -- where even the Monfort Lane is safer than Pensacola Beach.
Friday, June 25, 2010
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are beginning to get reports of oiled, dying, and dead sea birds along Pensacola Beach and in Gulf Breeze. Officials have important advice for would-be rescuers:
Don't attempt to rescue these animals yourself. You could do more harm than good. To report oiled or injured wildlife, call (866) 557-1401.2. Oil Scraping.
Travis Griggs for the PNJ reports on the abominable state of the beach after this week's attempts to clean it:
Despite intensive efforts by more than 1,100 workers and heavy equipment to clean thick tar from Pensacola Beach overnight Wednesday, massive sheets of oil remained buried in the sand.Last evening, he writes, "At a glance, it appeared at least 90 percent of the oil was gone" from the so-called 'clean' section of beach across from Peg Leg Pete's.
An 8-mile stretch of Pensacola Beach that was covered with gooey oil Wednesday appeared to be clean when the sun came up Thursday. But researchers from the University of South Florida and news reporters discovered that oil is buried from about 1 inch to 8 inches deep.
Scattered tar balls and a few bigger chunks of fresh crude were all that remained on the surface. But when the reporter dug about an inch into the wet sand near the high tide line, his fingers sank into thick sheets of tar.You can't say we -- and BP, and MMS, and the entire oil industry -- weren't warned.
3. Red Lobster Drops Oysters.
Speaking of the food chain, so long oysters. Red Lobster is dropping them from the menu. All of the restaurant chain's oysters come from a Louisiana plant.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Reporter Jamie Page writes "roughly 8 tons of tar balls" were scooped up from Johnson Beach at Perdido Key, according to a report by the Florida Division of Emergency Management." That's a number Pensacola Beach will be certain to exceed in the coming days.
2. Worst Wallop.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
North Escambia County.com has photos.
Both local TV weathermen and more scientific sources like NOAA are warning that southeast winds and water currents could be bringing the offshore oil sheet closer to Panhandle beaches in the coming days. While it's likely Pensacola Beach will avoid the worst of it, chances are appreciably enhanced that we will be seeing tarballs and orange mousse along the shoreline of local area beaches.
Here's the latest oil forecast report from Mobile's Channel 5:
2. Pensacola Beach Status.
From Escambia Disaster Recovery:
Reports from Pensacola Beach are that although a dark brown film was seen on the west side of the beach, the relationship to incoming oil has not been determined. The inclement weather hampered the clean-up crews actions.3. A Visit from the COO.
BP's chief operating office, Doug Suttles, blew through town yesterday to talk to the press. Judging from Paul Fleming's report in the PNJ, he talked mostly about claims and money and accounting procedures. What little Fleming writes of Suttles' remarks about the oil itself is encapsulated in the first three paragraphs:
BP America's Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles on Tuesday said he thinks oil damage to the Panhandle will be similar to what already has been experienced, with tar balls coming ashore in scattered spots.Another unnamed BP spokesman, Fleming reports, said Monday "that BP had paid 17,083 claims from Florida, for a total of $15.2 million. BP has sent $50 million to Florida for response costs along with another $25 million for a tourism marketing blitz."
"You're going to see tar balls for a long time," he said.
He said BP crews will continue cleaning up the tar from the beaches, something he described as more manageable than cleaning up oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
The rest of the article reads mostly like oily wind being blown up public skirts.
- Suttles was awakened in the dead of night April 20 when the BP Deepwater Horizon well blew up...
- He realizes how "upset" people are...
- BP "is doing all that it can and is deeply concerned but is learning as it goes"...
- Poor Mr. Suttles has been called a "liar" and worse...
- The oil is "ugly" but "we don't have any big quantities of oil out there"...
- Local governments "will be subject to reimbursement for lost tax revenues that are a direct result of the spill — lost bed taxes on hotel rooms, for instance"...
- BP 'expects' "businesses that receive compensation will not lay off workers" and it "might" even check records to see for sure...
- "It feels like a partnership" to him when he works with local governments...
- And, our favorite: Suttles thinks "people feel comforted" hearing "the same message" "two or three times" and "they don't mind hearing it over and over again."
The new face of BP seems not to have been asked how large the oil plume beneath the surface of the Gulf waters is, or what his corporate employer calculates to be the total amount of oil that's sloshing around, or how BP proposes to remediate for all the sea life it's been killing, or why BP continues to use the dispersant Corexit, or what dangers are posed by the "dissolved oil" University of West Florida scientists recently found at Perdido Key, or... well, you get the idea. Doug Suttles sat down with Gannett's Tallahassee place-holder for a celebrity appearance, not a news interview, and Paul Fleming obliged.
At BP, the "COO" position no longer has anything to do with operations. The middle "O" stands for obscurantist.
4. A Bargain with the Devil.
Rolling Stone Magazine won't break your bones but naming names will haunt you. Tim Dickinson has a massive article in the June 24 issue ["The Spill, The Scandal, and the President"] that amounts to a collector's item. Buy the issue and save it for your grandkids.
There is, in truth, not much new in Dickinson's report which you don't know if you've been paying close attention to the BP oil catastrophe from the very beginning. Still, Dickinson has put together a powerful narrative of events that names names and indicts just about everyone except the American consumer who is still driving gas guzzlers.
Just about the only hero Dickinson finds is Massachusetts congressman Ed Markey, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. Almost everyone else has been playing the obscurantist role we mention above, or worse. Even the scientists he quotes, some by name and others anonymously, do not explain why they didn't publicly blow the whistle earlier.
Among those who really catch it are George W. Bush, MMS, BP Corp., Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, NOAA director Jane Lubchenco, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, and President Obama.
- Bush and MMS come off as lustful bedmates of the oil industry ("During the Bush years, the Minerals Management Service... descended into rank criminality.")
- British Petroleum Corp. -- excuse us, "BP" -- is characterized as a sleazy, criminally reckless, corner-cutting predator of the environment with a "deadly mentality." ("The last company on Earth" that should have been allowed "to regulate itself.")
- Ken Salazar is painted as an Interior Secretary who suffers from attention deficit disorder, someone who started off by cracking down on MMS with "an ambitious agenda to clean up the mess" but soon was distracted by his "highly specific soft spot for offshore drilling" and "put 53 million offshore acres up for lease in the Gulf... an all-time high." ("Employees describe being in Interior -- not just MMS, but the other agencies -- as the third Bush term.")
- NOAA director Lubchenco, according to Dickinson's sources, was so thoroughly captured by the "White House spin machine" that she bizarrely hid from the public the true extent of the oil spill even to the point of denying the obvious. ("NOAA has actively pushed back on every fact that has ever come out... .")
- Rear Admiral Mary Landry, an easy punching bag, was simply "overwhelmed" and "visibly shaken." She also was the first to be shunted aside.
- As for President Obama, he certainly is guilty of spectacularly bad timing. On March 31 he announced with much fanfare that the administration was proposing to open off-shore drilling "in the Arctic, the Southeastern seaboard and new waters in the Gulf, closer to Florida than ever before." That proud announcement, of course, came just eighteen days before BP's Deepwater Horizon well blew up. As Dickinson acknowledges, the supposed change in drilling policy was mostly political theater, inspired by the administration's hope that promising "drill, baby, drill" beginning in 2012 would win Republican support in the Senate for climate change legislation. "The political calculus is understandable," Dickinson writes, "the risk of an oil spill weighed against the far greater threat posed by global warming." In the end, it proved to be "a bargain with the devil." (Just as, we might add, was the bargaining Obama engaged in to water down health reform and reign in Wall Street's greedy "too big to fail" bankers.)
But have you? Will you continue to do so?
To us, the most ominous feature of Rolling Stone's take-down is how Dickinson views the future of the Obama administration's temporary drilling ban -- the very ban against new deep water drilling which an oil-friendly Louisiana federal judge enjoined yesterday:
Critics of the administration's drilling plans fear that the president's decision to postpone drilling in the Arctic and appoint a commission to investigate the BP spill are merely stalling tactics, designed to blunt public anger about the disaster.Can it be our collective memory will fade so quickly? Is it possible that after electing so many "drill, baby, drill" politicians who made it possible to poison the Gulf of Mexico, Americans will forget and do it all over again?
"The way the PR is spinning is once that spill is plugged, then people declare victory," says Rep. Grijalva. "The commission stalls it long enough where the memory of the American people starts to fade a little bit on the issue. After that, we're back to where we were."
5. Volunteer Training.
Gulf Islands National Seashore hosts volunteer training for citizens assisting seashore visitors on Saturday, June 26 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Gulf Breeze. For more information call 850-916-3013.
6. Jimmy Buffett Concert.
Tickets for Jimmy Buffett's suddenly announced BP oil spill concert in Gulf Shores, Alabama, go on
Tickets will be available from Ticketmaster.com or by calling 1.866.448.7849 beginning Wednesday (June 23) at 10 a.m. [CDT] There is a four-ticket limit. Only 35,000 tickets will be handed out.She Who Must Be Obeyed is perplexed about this. "Why would you need to get a ticket to attend a free concert?" she asks. We didn't have an answer. Anyone else care to explain?
Gates to the July 1 concert will open at 3 p.m. and the music starts at 5 p.m.
7. Road Trip.
We're answering a call for help from an oil-free relative and will be in the skies and on the road with him for a few days. Where we're going is about as remote from oil spills in the U.S. as you can get and our ancient, clunky, overheating laptop may or may not work. So for a few days blogging will be light, if any.
We'll leave a spillcam running with an easy-to-use comment section for readers to use if they'd like to help keep us up-to-date.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman issued a preliminary injunction today barring the enforcement of Barack Obama's proposed six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, arguing that the ban is too broad.The original ban was formally imposed on May 31. Soon after, an injunction against enforement of it was sought by a consortium of oil drilling companies.
The Government resisted, arguing among other things that the ban was a necessary measure for the public safety, discrete, limited to drilling in more than 500 feet of water, temporary in that it was for only six months, and well within the federal oversight responsibilities of the executive branch which administers and regulates offshore drilling in federal waters.
The judge who enjoined president Obama's six-month moratorium, numerous sources report, personally owns stock in Transocean, the lawful owner of the blown-up Deepwater Horizon rig. According to his last financial disclosure statement, Kate Sheppard writes for Rolling Stone, he also owns stock in numerous other oil drilling companies:
According to the most recently available financial disclosure form for District Court Judge Martin Feldman, he had holdings of up to $15,000 in Transocean in 2008. He has also recently owned stock in offshore drilling or oilfield service providers Halliburton, Prospect Energy, Hercules Offshore, Parker Drilling Co., and ATP Oil & Gas.The New York Times reports that in a 22-page ruling Judge Feldman "wrote that the Obama administration had failed to justify the need for the sweeping suspension, which he characterized as 'generic, indeed punitive.'" The entire ruling is available here. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said immediately that the Government would appeal the judge's order.
Ordinarily, any appeal would be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting in New Orleans. As Ian Millhiser noted last week, however, in May "so many members of the right-wing Fifth Circuit were forced to recuse themselves from an appeal against various energy and chemical companies that there weren’t enough untainted judges left to allow the court to hear the case."
If that should be the case again, it's possible the case would pass immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to wind up its annual session June 30. First, however, it would have to go to Justice Antonin Scalia, another Reagan appointee and one of the most conservative justices in the federal judiciary. Scalia is the Supreme Court's designated justice for overseeing the Fifth Circuit.
PLEASE NOTE: The location of the meeting has been changed to the Pensacola Beach Community Church on Via de Luna at Avenida 18.
The Pensacola News Journal boasts on the front page above the fold, "Escambia Mostly Unscathed" by oil. It's true, so far. Tarballs continue to be seen in Panama City and Fort Walton Beach to the east. "Lots of oil and lots of sharks" are in Bon Secour Bay near Mobile, Alabama and "globs of crude and gooey tar -- some the size of pancakes" at Orange Beach to the west.
Some signs of oil in visible amounts -- but "lessening" -- are at Perdido, but next to no oil has been seen in the past week along Pensacola Beach.
To be sure, some time in the past forty-eight hours an oil sheen reportedly seeped from Pensacola Bay into the boomed entrance of Little Sabine Bay (left). But that's on the mainland side of the island and doesn't affect Gulfside beaches.
The oilcast through Thursday (see above) looks reasonably favorable for our continued good luck.
2. Lakota Funding.
The absence of great gobs of oil washing over the bikini-clad bodies of tourists in Escambia County has one inconvenient aspect. It makes it harder for Pensacola's local government to demand from BP needed help without including neighboring counties who can come up with dramatic photos of oily gobs fouling the beaches and marshlands.
"$14 Million Sought for Job Growth," reads the leading headline in today's daily Pensacola paper. This is going to be a hard sell even with a coalition of harder-hit counties:
[S]ix Panhandle counties feeling the brunt of the oil spill are asking Gov. Charlie Crist to seek $14 million from BP to help them spur job growth in industries unrelated to tourism.The request also includes another $2 million for "a regional economic development agency" known as "Florida's Great Northwest."
"We expect the effects of this disaster to stretch far beyond our tourism business into every corner of our economy from the military to renewable energy," said Merrill, a Pensacola developer and restaurant owner. "Future economic growth of target industry sectors not dependent on tourism or inward migration is our only hope of creating a sustainable economy in Northwest Florida."
Along with Escambia, economic development agencies in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Gulf counties each are requesting $2 million from BP.
There is some degree of logic -- and certainly a need -- behind the request. The Florida panhandle is almost totally dependent on tourism. Without it the job market drops off a cliff. It's likely to be decades before things return to any semblance of normality.
The root problem, other than the oil spill that's poisoning the Gulf, is that state and regional economic planning in Florida has been a long-running joke. But whether BP should be compelled to pay for diversifying our economy when our own state and local leaders for decades failed to do so is bound to be a contentious issue.
On one hand, there is the hallowed principle of the English common law that "a tortfeasor takes his victim as he finds him." BP, being British, will know of that rule. On the other hand, there must be some limit to how much even a despised oil company should pay to compensate for past mistakes of others which left us so vulnerable to a destruction of a major segment of the economy in Florida.
Not that it helps, but this puts us in mind of an ancient Lakota Sioux custom we've read about. Among one of the subtribal "associations" noted by the early ethnographer Thomas Tyon was one that held if a brave rescued the life of another member of the tribe then the rescuer became responsible for the rescued tribal member for the rest of his life. Another subtribal association among the Sioux, known as the "Tokala" or Foxes, required that if a "fellow Fox... died or was killed and left a widow, he should keep that widow from want" for the rest of her life.
We don't suppose the Lakota rules of life offer any precedent BP wants to observe. But it's of interest to note that before the British first arrived in the New World there were native Americans who readily shouldered the moral responsibility to care for others, especially the less fortunate. Why shouldn't BP follow the same custom?
To be less frivolous, BP could -- and for the future health of the world, probably should -- consider funding some alternative energy projects in the Florida panhandle. Solar and wind are among the most obvious. It's the least they could do for the world if as it turns out they destroyed the entire chain of life as well as the economy all over the Gulf of Mexico.
3. Fish Stories.
We neglected to mention a curious speculation in yesterday's Pensacola News Journal. The headline is more indefinite than the fish stories within: "Marine Life May be Fleeing Oil Spill."
According to a bunch of stories being swapped around town by fisherman, Kimberly Blair reports a number of unusual behaviors by marine life are being seen by the people who like to match wits against a fish:
It's also reported there is a "major decline" in nesting sea turtles. Only three nests have been found this year compared with eight last year at this time.
- Deepwater amberjack are showing up in shallower water around the Pensacola Beach
- Larger numbers of sharks are tugging at fishing lines in the water around Fort Pickens
- "Destin anglers noted cobia heading east instead of their usual migratory path west."
- "Hundreds of cow rays... have been patrolling the coast in recent weeks.""
That one we believe. Do you suppose it could have something to do with the fact that 45 out 46 stranded dolphins are known dead?
As for the other tales, it's certainly plausible that the enormous oil spill is changing fish and shark behaviors. Still, it's hard to judge if local fishermen really are seeing indirect effects of the oil spill or just telling fish tales. Perhaps all that's going on, as Gulf Islands National Seashore biologist Mark Nicholas told reporter Blair, is that "people are finally noticing what's out there."
4. MMS Gone, Hello BOE.
It took the Bush-Cheney administration eight years to thoroughly corrupt Minerals Management Service. It took the Obama administration fifteen months to change the agency's name, reorganize and divide it, and install a tough administrator who has a reasonable chance of reforming it. Yesterday--
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed an order renaming the agency the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The agency, which both regulates the oil and gas industry and collects billions in royalties from it, will be known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy or BOE for short, Salazar said.More important than the name change, there's a new sheriff in town:
Michael R. Bromwich, 56, a former assistant U.S. attorney and Justice Department inspector general, will lead a reorganization of the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service.Bromwich is a widely respected investigator and former prosecutor whose specialty has become "drilling down into sclerotic government organizations." A number of newspapers and blogs note that he has no "energy experience." They might also want to note that he has no experience taking bribes, shoving cocaine up his nose while partying with oil company reps or sleeping around with oil company women.
MMS doesn't need another drilling engineer. It needs a relentless cop. The other day we heard no less a critic of MMS than Pensacola's own Prof. Enid Sisskin singing the praises of lower-level staff members at MSS.
Sisskin is one of the nation's best-informed experts on drilling policy in the Gulf of Mexico and a frequent witness at congressional oil drilling hearings. She was being interviewed on Pensacola Beach by a documentary filmmaker.
"There are a lot of good people at MMS, very good," she said. However, they are mostly professional lower-level employees. If one reads their internal reports and recommendations, she says -- and they are publicly available -- time and again one sees that lower-level professionals authored thorough, detailed reports with well-reasoned recommendations to protect public and worker safety and the environment. However, Sisskin adds, their reports "were trashed" by higher-up political appointees in MMS during the Bush years and never made it out of the agency's files.
5. Oil Spill Attorney Town Meeting Scheduled.
WSRE-TV, the local public television channel, is hosting a "town hall meeting" led by "a panel of local attorneys" who will "provide legal guidance on a variety of topics, including the [BP oil spill] claims process, class action suits, multi-district litigation, how to document and track losses, potential claimants and more." The meeting will be held in the television station's performance studio from w8 to 10 in the morning tomorrow, Wednesday, July 23.
6. Cap and Trade.
Hendrick Hertzberg of The New Yorker, in the newest issue that's on its way to newsstands right now, weighs in on President Obama's Oval Office speech of last week. Along the way he recounts how BP's oil spill numbers have shifted crazily over the past two months:
At first, after the explosion aboard the giant oil rig Deepwater Horizon, the rig’s operator, BP, estimated the resulting flow at a thousand barrels a day. A nasty business, yes. But at that rate it would have taken eight months to approach the level of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and eight years to equal the record for the Gulf, set in 1980 at Ixtoc, off the Mexican coast.Then he takes the discussion about the substance of Obama's speech to the very place it should be:
By May 17th—the day that the chief executive officer of BP predicted that “the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest”—it was obvious that what was unfolding was the single biggest environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States. By last Tuesday, June 15th, when President Obama commandeered the networks for his first address to the nation from the Oval Office, the per-day estimate had been ratcheted up to sixty thousand barrels—a thousand every twenty-four minutes.
Against this background, Obama’s speech was bound to feel unequal to the occasion. What “people” wanted to hear was an answer to Malia Obama’s now famous question—“Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?”—and the answer they wanted to hear was yes, or, failing that, real soon. This the President could not provide. Plugging the hole is beyond his power, or, apparently, anyone else’s.
The President was right, of course, that the ultimate cause of the Gulf disaster is out-of-control consumption of a dwindling resource that must be extracted in increasingly dangerous ways. The most effective, most efficient way to rein in that consumption and make clean energy price-competitive would be to slap a heavy tax on carbon. (Ideally, much of the revenue would be rebated to the public as a cut in the payroll tax, since it makes more sense to tax things we want to discourage, such as oil use, than things we want to encourage, such as work.)Hertzberg once was a presidential speech writer in Jimmy Carter's White House. In fact, he's credited (wrongly) as the author of former President Carter's so-called "Malaise speech." (Herztberg: "In truth I was more stenographer-typist than author, smoothing and coordinating bits of draft from various people... .")
This is what some European countries have done, and it may well be what Obama would do if he had the kind of legislative power that European prime ministers have and that many Americans, of all political persuasions, assume that he has, too.
* * *
As he did with health care, Obama is trying for the maximum that, in his judgment, our rusty, clanking legislative sausage-maker is capable of delivering. As he noted in his speech, a year ago the House passed “a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill.” That bill languishes in the Senate, where its weaker counterpart is on life support, with the filibuster poised to cut it off.
If part three of Obama’s speech was cautiously, even uninspiringly, worded, that is because it is part of the delicate legislative strategy of a President who knows that, while the perfect is out of reach, the good (and maybe even the so-so) is its ally, not its enemy.
In an earlier issue of The New Yorker Hertzberg gives a detailed account of the "malaise" speech that is worth knowing, especially now:
For those who weren’t yet born on July 15, 1979, or were too little to stay up and watch TV that night, the “malaise” address was President Carter’s most famous, most notorious, most ambitious, and (in my opinion) most interesting foray into big-time speechifying, a field in which he was only intermittently successful (although, to be fair, he did manage to talk his way into the Presidency).There's much more that's useful to know about that speech, particularly if you think Obama could have done better with his Oval Office address. Yeah, but Carter tried, you might think, and look what happened to him. You may come to a different conclusion after reading the whole piece ["A Very Merry Malaise"].
* * *
On one occasion, Carter, seeking to go beyond technocratic approaches, tried to cast the energy problem in sweeping moral terms. This was the so-called “malaise” episode, widely recognized as one of the most memorable moments of the Carter administration and almost as widely scorned as one of the most contemptible. The received version of what happened is simple. It goes like this: in the summer of 1979, President Carter was overwhelmed by energy and economic crises. In desperation, he made a disastrous speech blaming the American people and a national “malaise” for his own manifest failures of policy and leadership. The American people, horrified, turned him out of office at the first opportunity.
It goes almost without saying that the historical reality and the political caricature do not comport with one another. For example, here are four details of the episode that are at variance with how most people seem to remember it: 1. Carter himself never mentioned the word “malaise.” 2. The speech itself was an enormous popular success. It generated a record amount of positive mail to the White House, and Carter’s approval rating in the polls zoomed up by eleven points literally overnight. 3. The sudden political damage came not from the speech but from the Cabinet firings a few days later. 4. Although Carter has been flayed for blaming others, the first third of the speech is devoted to the most excoriating self-criticism ever heard from any American President. As these details suggest, the “malaise” episode has become encrusted in myth.
Hertzberg knows what he's taking about. He's been there, done that. So when he hears Obama giving a "cautious, even uninspiring" speech ["Spilled Oil"] and concludes the speech was expressly tailored to advancing a "delicate legislative strategy" -- that is, it was written to appeal to 100 U.S. senators rather than to comfort millions of viewers -- then you can believe it.
Over the past year and a half Obama has received a great deal of criticism, much of it from the left, for being too timid in advancing a health reform agenda, reigning in Wall Street, and reconfiguring the nation's energy policy to take account of our reckless addiction to carbon as it poisons the planet. Hertzberg is absolutely right in blaming the Senate, and particularly its antiquated filibuster and "personal hold" rules.
As Donald Rumsfeld might say, he has to govern with the Senate he has not the Senate he might wish to have. But it's the Senate's minority of bitter-end "just say no to everything" conservatives that have forced both the executive branch and the "people's house" to swallow watered down, pale imitations of real change.
There is no fix to that other than to elect more environmentally sensitive senators who are not in the pockets of Wall Street, the insurance industry, and Big Oil. Yet, there is a case to be made that if the only way forward is to change the make-up of the dysfunctional U.S. Senate, Obama's best hope for doing that is to rouse the public, not appeal to recalcitrant senators. That's more or less what Rachel Maddow's Anti-Oval Office speech illustrates.
What do you think? When the drilling ban is lifted, which approach offers the nation a better chance of avoiding Massive Ocean-Killing Oil Spill #2? Stirring speeches about alternative energy or "delicate legislative strategies? to achieve it?"
Monday, June 21, 2010
Happy first day of summer! The local forecaster for WEAR-TV says light winds will continue from the south through Wednesday, but even so "most" of the leading edge of oil will remain off-shore. There is a moderate chance of afternoon showers in Pensacola every day. More often than not, that means sunny days on the beach and lovely views of the thunderheads over tghe mainland.
Beach Report # 18 (not yet on-line at this writing) from Escambia County Response says, "Early morning reports indicated Pensacola Pass had tar balls and mousse in the tide line. The area is being worked."
2. Oil is Beautiful.
Not really. But if anyone can make it appear so, it's Pensacola Beach photographer "Barrier Island Girl. Take a look by clicking here.
3. Jimmy Buffett concert.
The composer of Come Monday, Jimmy Buffett, announced over the weekend that he will be staging a concert "to demonstrate support for the people, businesses and culture of the Gulf Coast" on July 1, in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Country Music Television will broadcast the concert live.
Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band will be joined in the concert by his friends Zac Brown, Kenny Chesney and Sonny Landreth. Other performers will be announced as additional plans develop.Buffett's new hotel on Pensacola Beach is scheduled for a formal opening the same day.
The PNJ has a slightly different spin on the reason for the concert. It's intended, the paper asserts, "to promote tourism in the region affected by the BP oil spill." A few local business owners are quoted as wishing out loud the concert venue was in Pensacola.
We imagine southern Louisiana fishermen would feel similarly, if they weren't so busy looking for work and leaping at whatever oil-cleaning jobs they can get. The problem is, there just aren't enough Jimmy Buffetts.
Interestingly, local condo developer Robert Rinke was talking of trying to promote a Buffett concert on Pensacola Beach three weeks ago.
4. Tourism confab.
Rinke also played host over the weekend to a conference of hoteliers and other tourist-oriented members of SouthCoast USA.
Tourism bureau officials from each SouthCoast USA destination also announced they have signed a joint letter requesting BP to grant $10 million in marketing and advertising funding designated for the purpose of promoting tourism to the region.5. Beach Meeting Reminder.
Locals are reminded that District 4 County Commissioner Grover Robinson IV will be hollding a 2-hour 'town hall' meeting in the SRIA's meeting room Tuesday night, starting at 6 pm.
6. Media Reminder.
Here's another reminder: Do not believe anything former Bush speech-writer Dana Perino says about the state of Minerals Management Service under the Bush Administration. She suffers from severe memory loss, as Media Matters conclusively demonstrates.
7. Whitehouse Nails MMS.
Speaking of MMS, a reader pointed us the other day to a floor speech late last week by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Over the past few years, Senator Whitehouse has demonstrated a firmer grasp on facts and law than almost any other senator in that often-dysfunctional body. He's definitely an authority on what went wrong at MMS.
A synopsis of what he said is here. But it cannot convey the verve with which he said it.
Do yourself a favor. Turn on the speakers and watch the rare site of a candid, honest, and smart politician saying what needs to be said: