ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest
seats in Government, our country will be in need of its experienced patriots to
prevent its ruin.� --Samuel Adams (1722-1803), statesman, political
philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, 1776
�America is addicted to oil.� --President
George W. Bush, State of the Union address, 2006
�Let me be clear: BP is responsible
for this leak; BP will be paying the bill.� --President Barack
Obama, May 2, 2010
than not, the consequences of public policies, good or bad, are felt many years
after they have been taken. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a
good example. This disaster is, to a large extent, a consequence of the Bush-Cheney energy policy of 2001
After being ushered into power by a one-vote-majority
Supreme Court decision, one of the first decisions made by the new Republican
administration was to establish an Energy Task Force (the National Energy Policy Development
Group) under the authority of oilman Dick Cheney, former CEO of Halliburton
(1995-2000). As some have asserted, chief deregulator Dick Cheney was not only
a vice president but a genuine co-president in the split
After some 106 days of mainly secret consultations and
deliberations with the executives and interest groups representing the U.S.
electricity, coal, natural gas and nuclear industries, with a pledge to keep
secret the names of participating individuals, the Task Force�s 163-page final report
was sent to President George W. Bush on May 16, 2001.
The report focused on how to open up new domestic petroleum
sources and on the need to expand and control the all-important Middle East oil
production. A parallel report to the official Cheney report (Strategic Energy
Policy Challenges for the 21st Century) even stated that �Iraq has become a
key �swing� producer, posing a difficult situation for the U.S. government,�
. . . a harbinger of things to come. This is all well documented in my book �The New American Empire.�
Soon after the secretive Cheney�s Task Force report came
out, things began rolling for the U.S. petroleum industry. The regulatory
rulebooks for energy development on public property were rewritten with the
idea of making the world environment safe for oil business companies. It was
going to be �Drill, baby, drill,� including for deep-ocean drilling with minimal
precautions, and damn the consequences! Regulations and clean energy budgets
began to fall.
On April 9, 2002, President George W. Bush announced deep cuts in public clean energy
research and development.
In 2001-02, the Bush-Cheney administration�s energy policy
goals were incorporated into an energy bill (H.R. 4) titled the Securing America�s Future Energy Act (SAFE) that included $33.5 billion in tax
breaks and other incentives for oil companies and that lifted the oil drilling
ban on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. In May
2002, the Democrat-controlled Senate narrowly rejected the bill.
On August 8, 2005, however, President George W. Bush signed
into law the new approach and enacted a new sweeping pro-oil bill, the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The
bill followed closely in the footsteps of Vice President Cheney�s 2001 energy
report and provided $27
billion to coal, oil and gas, and nuclear industries, and $6.4 billion for
Then, also in 2005, the Bush-Cheney administration allowed
the U.S. oil and gas industry to regulate itself. The federal agency responsible for managing oil and gas
resources and for collecting royalties from companies, the Interior Department�s
Minerals Management Service (MMS),
decided, on August 30, 2005, that oil companies, rather than the government,
were in the best position for determining their operations� environmental
impacts. In effect, MMS decided on that date to de facto merge its
services with those of the oil companies, even to the point of letting the oil
industry fill out MMS�s inspection reports. MMS officials also had other cozy relations with the companies
they were supposed to regulate.
Then again, on July 14, 2008, just months before leaving
office, President George W. Bush signed an executive order to lift the
moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the
Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Such a moratorium had been put in place in 1990 by
President George H.W. Bush.
There is also some confusion concerning the scope of
responsibility that oil companies have in the event of an environment
catastrophe. Since 1986, there already was on federal books an Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) that set a cap on losses that a business could suffer from an oil
spill. That liability cap was set at $75 million by the George H.W. Bush
administration, as part of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, after the Alaska Exxon Valdez spill of March 1989. Only proven negligence can
render that liability cap inoperative. Since the puny $75 m. cap has not been
increased in 20 years, that may explain why some analysts still recommend to
their clients to buy BP stock. BP is a worldwide oil
company that makes in excess of $25 billion a year.
Covered from losses by the liability cap, oil companies persuaded
the Bush-Cheney administration that expensive security measures were not
required, even for drilling in deep oceanic waters. For example, Minerals Management Service (MMS) decided not to
require oil companies to install a remote-control oil blowout preventer on their
deep-sea oil drilling rigs, i.e., an acoustic blow off valve that immediately
chokes off the flow of oil in an emergency. Even though they are expensive,
(they cost $500,000 each), most offshore oil rigs in other countries -- in
Norway and in Brazil, for example, but not in the U.S. or the U.K. -- have such
a switch installed for cutting off the flow of oil in an emergency by closing a
valve located on the ocean floor.
No such emergency switch was available on April 20, 2010,
when BP�s 18,000-foot-drilling-deep floating oil rig blew up, a catastrophe
that killed 11 workers, injured many others, and which has spewed, so far, as
much as 100 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico (some 2,400,000
barrels, or nearly 10 oil tankers the size of the Exxon Valdez). British
Petroleum (BP), seemingly, had cut corners in order to take advantage of the lax regulatory environment.
However, contrary to the damage done by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a natural event,
the 2010 Gulf oil spill is a
man-made disaster (just as, by the way, the 2003 Iraq war and the 2007-08
financial crisis were also man-made disasters). It could have been prevented if
the Bush-Cheney administration had not removed the regulations mandating basic
safety procedures in oil drilling, especially for offshore drilling.
Of course, BP and its subcontractors (Transocean, Halliburton,
etc.) are the ones who are directly responsible for the disaster. But the
Bush-Cheney administration must share a large part of the blame and
responsibility in preparing the regulatory background for the disaster.
President Barack Obama also doesn�t escape
all responsibility, because he was the one who insisted on keeping so many
Bush-Cheney appointees in their high positions after he was elected. Moreover,
on March 31, 2010, only weeks before the BP Gulf Oil Spill, his administration
also proposed to open vast expanses of American coastlines to oil and natural gas drilling.
Americans have reasons to be confused and appalled.
Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University
of Montreal and can be reached at email@example.com. He
is the author of the book �The Code for Global Ethics.�