A Drilling Moratorium or a Freeze on Action?

I would love a counterpoint here because I know there are many people, more informed than I am and can speak far more about this on the technical level, who will disagree with me, but I, in theory, agree with United States District Judge Martin Feldman’s ruling to lift the president’s ban on deepwater drilling despite apparent, and serious financial conflicts with Gulf-area federal judges. There are few political actions that, to me, suffer from short-sighted pure politics than directives that place a wholesale suspension on an existing practice based on an event. Putting the breaks on existing policy when something goes wrong, particularly when so many folks in the federal government and oil industry were aware of the dangers of deepwater drilling, never seems to amount to anything but the appearance of “action.” Anyone who follows this story knows that BP’s misdeeds were long known and that its wells were significantly riskier than those of its peers. According to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal, BP used a less costly, “long-string design” labeled “‘risky’ by Congressional investigators in more than one out of three of [BPs] deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico.”

From the report:

A Journal analysis of records provided by the U.S. Minerals Management Service shows that BP used the less costly design—called “long string”—on 35% of its deepwater wells since July 2003, the earliest date the well-design data were available. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., a minority partner of BP’s in the destroyed well, used it on 42% of its deepwater Gulf wells, though it says it doesn’t do so in wells of the type drilled by BP.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for changing law based on an event, and in this case, this spill represents almost everything that is wrong with an oil-based energy policy. This event should provide the political capital needed to enact a bold, aggressive, long-sighted energy bill. Last Friday, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, after showing a montage of those on the right apologizing to BP and mischaracterizing the actions of the White House, said this:

“Conservatives have the opposite effect of political capital on this. And so, progressives and Democrats should use it. Use it for once. Use it for once. Use it to pass a no compromise bill. They’re actually making the case for that right now. Pinch me.”

She’s absolutely right, of course, and her show has done some phenomenal reporting on the BP oil spill. We need to move quickly with clean energy policy, and moratoriums typically amount to very complex, polarizing acts of showmanship that result in kicking the problem down the road, rather than moving boldly forward.

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