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Weekly Mulch: BP oil spill stalls climate bill

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“There’s a dead dolphin on this beach,” Mother Jones‘ Mac McClelland, wrote yesterday in Louisiana. It’s one snapshot of the harm visited on the Gulf Coast by the BP oil spill. Back in Washington, the Senate climate bill, which would put the country on a path to cleaner energy consumption, is on its last legs.

You’d think that after a seemingly unstoppable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (official estimates are up to 50,000 barrels a day, as of yesterday) and the hottest spring on record (hello, climate change!), U.S. citizens and elected representatives would recognize that our country’s thirst for resources has consequences.

It’s not just that oil is spilling into the Gulf, even after BP hit on a fix. Besides the blow-out that has dominated headlines, another, more routine spill showed up near the Louisiana coast. The Deepwater Horizon spill is now the larger of two spills in the Gulf Coast, according to Care2. A week ago in Pennsylvania, a natural gas well owned by EOG Resources (formerly Enron) shot a geyser of chemical-laced water 75 feet into the air; and on Monday, in West Virginia, another natural gas well, this one owned by Chief Oil and Natural Gas, also exploded, as AlterNet reports.

Yet BP is still supplying the Pentagon with oil and gas, as Jeremy Scahill writes at The Nation. Senators are still supporting natural gas exploration and off-shore oil drilling. The White House has also abandoned any intention of pushing for strong legislation that would push for better, cleaner energy.

Lifestyle vs. lives

Americans aren’t willing to give up their lifestyle, so wild animals are giving up their lives. One casualty of the BP spill in the Gulf might be bluefin tuna. Their population is 20 per cent of what it was 40 years ago, Inter Press Service reports. Although the effects of the oil spill won’t be entirely clear for a few years, scientists are worried.

“Biologically, bluefin are already unlucky,” IPS writes. “The fish -- which can be as long as and faster than a sports car -- only spawn once a year and only in certain locations.”

Schools of the tuna, IPS reports, are headed now towards the Gulf of Mexico.

“The spill has been going on during their peak spawning period in the only place the western population spawns, so in timing and location it’s probably the worst place you could have it and during the worst time,” Lee Crocket, director of federal fisheries policy at Pew Environment, told IPS.

All the creatures of the sea

It’s not just tuna that are at risk, either. Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty has been documenting the fate of birds, fish, and other sea creatures that come into contact with the oil in the Gulf. She visited Elmer’s Island, LA, and snapped a shot of one of the dead jelly fish that had washed up on the shore:

“There were dead Portuguese man o’war jellies—one of the few species that weather the travails of the dead zone that afflicts these waters each summer. The dead zone is an area around the outflow of the Mississippi River made hypoxic by too many nutrients flowing downstream, mostly from farms and ranches. If you’re a jellyfish, a dead zone is survivable. Apparently an oiled zone is not.”

BP’s shroud of secrecy

BP has been remarkably cagey with the public about what’s going on in the Gulf. In addition to keeping reporters away from soiled area, the company hasn’t shown much interest in understanding exactly how much oil it’s spilling into the ocean. Initial estimates of 1,000 barrels per day have blossomed into estimates, on the low end, of 25,000 barrels. On Democracy Now!, scientist Ira Leifer said that the company is being more forthcoming with information now than it was originally. But he’d like a fuller picture:

“What there really should be at these kind of sites is some acoustic methods, whether it’s sonar or passive listening devices, or other approaches that continuously are monitoring and waiting for something to happen and then would provide a nonstop, steady data stream, so we could actually learn from what happens….These things, they’re not steady states. They belch. They have large eruptions.”

What that means, Leifer said, is that it’s not necessarily accurate to talk about a definitive rate at which the oil is pouring out. In his words, “the flow today is not necessarily the flow tomorrow.” What’s more, the attempts to stop the spill can make it worse. One concern is that the rock surrounding the pipe could “give out,” Leifer says. In that scenario, the oil would not just come from the pipe but from many sites in the surrounding sea bed.

“This reservoir is massive, and it could easily flow that kind of oil for the next twenty or thirty years, if it was left to go unattended,” Leifer said. “So the amount of oil that could end up in the environment if measures are not successful is at what I would call unimaginable.”

Spin, BP, spin

Given that sort of doomsday scenario, it’s not surprising that BP has plans to promise as little as possible to the spill’s victims. As Justin Elliott reports at TPMMuckraker, the company’s plan for oil spills instructs its spokespeople not to promise anything.

BP’s June 2009 Gulf of Mexico Regional Oil Spill Response Plan reads: “No statement shall be made containing … Promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal,” Elliott writes.

Solutions

How to move beyond these horror stories? This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) completely disowned the climate legislation he was working on before, and both Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum and The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen bemoaned the climate bill’s fate.

Yesterday, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon. Although the amendment failed, support from Democrats like Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln signals that the support isn’t there for even unambitious climate legislation. And at this juncture, it seems like the U.S. has done more harm than good in the international arena.

Coping with Copenhagen

International leaders are at Bonn this week, trying to pick up the pieces from last November’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

“Copenhagen was a pretty horrible conference,” conceded Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as IPS reports. “This year it’s about restoring trust.”

For the U.S., passing climate legislation would help.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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