Disenfranchised Citizen

Chicago, New Orleans and living a beautiful, angry life between the two…

Archive for the ‘Thad Allen’ Category

So, they’ll get it right this time? Oil spills, mine disasters, levees and forgetfulness…

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Far better prepared for this picture, than an oil spill...

It would appear a pattern is developing in this great land of ours. Simply put, we begin with a tragedy, then we have an investigation which discovers the governmental agencies designed to prevent such tragedies either fell down on the job or didn’t care, and even worse, the fail-safe for the agency that didn’t do their job is woefully unprepared to handle the mess created. Next, we get public and government anger, utter outrage about the aforementioned tragedy and congress types propose bills, make promises and issue guarantees that a tragedy like this will never happen again, and damnit, we mean it…never.

At least until next time.

What? What happened to the guarantees, the promises and the bills?

That was so last week man, have you talked to my lobbyist?

In a recent report, it was discovered (surprise) that the US Coast Guard was not prepared for a large deepwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the unified response to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe was continually troubled by this lack of planning. Government and private sectors “demonstrated a serious deficiency… (in) preparedness for an uncontrolled release of oil from an offshore drilling operation.” The panel also found many of the Coast Guard staff members interviewed “acknowledged that they were unfamiliar” with the plans to combat such a spill, “even though they held prominent positions” in the command structure for the response. Much of this is blamed on the changes to the Coast Guard, post 9-11. As their responsibilities were diversified, the oil spill response plan atrophied which resulted in problems with coordination and communication. From the report: “While the response plan by BP, the well’s operator, was criticized as unrealistic in the report, the government’s plans were also found to be inadequate and incomplete.”

Okay, given…anyone paying attention to events last summer could have figured out that both BP, the Coast Guard and state officials were caught with their pants down on this one, but…what happens now? New drilling permits are being issued, ten in fact (no matter what Vitter says).

“Capt. Ron LaBrec, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the Coast Guard was reviewing the recommendations and had already begun making improvements. (The Department of Homeland Security has requested an additional $11.5 million in its 2012 budget to help bolster the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to major spills, a department official said.)”

Improvements…

Perhaps a complete change might be more in order? One suggestion might be to immediately discuss and begin planning how to keep politics and corporate self-interest out of the equation.

If not, one might someday read an oil spill version of the soon to be even more tragic story about developments occurring since the Massey Mine disaster, which also happened last April and killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

If you don’t recall, there was outrage by Congress and the public that federal regulators didn’t have the power to close dozens of mines that had racked up thousands of safety and health violations (sound familiar?). At the time, both parties in Congress vowed swift action. They promised from their pulpits to fix this so no family will ever have to go through this kind of tragedy again.

A bill was proposed. It would have made it easier to shut down problem mines. It would have increased penalties for serious safety violations and offered greater protection for whistleblowers, and it took eight months for the bill to even reach the floor of Congress where two weeks ago, this bill was killed off, voted down by every single Republican and 27 Democrats.

In 2010, 48 coal miners died, the most since 55 were killed in 1992.

As retired miner, Fred Burgess said, whose stepson Ronald Mayor died in the Upper Big Branch explosion, “The miners should have a safer workplace, but the mine companies throw a lot of money around, they have lobbyists all over the place.”

Indeed, and to add insult to injury, it would appear lots of those lobbyists have been speaking to Rand Paul, who recently said in response to the MSHA’s (Mine Safety and Health Administration) new proposals which would reduce by half the amount of coal dust miner’s breathe, coal dust being the primary cause of  black lung, “”Every regulation doesn’t save lives…There is a point or a balancing act between when a regulation becomes burdensome enough that our energy production is stifled.”

Or in other words, “What he’s suggesting is to keep the cost of coal down we would jeopardize the health of coal miners,” said Stephen Sanders, director of the Appalachians Citizens’ Law Center.

Oh, and speaking of guarantees and promises, anybody remember a certain town called New Orleans and this little catastrophic failure they had a few years back, you know, where over a thousand people died when the levees broke, in several places?

Yeah, remember all those promises made back in 2005, to guarantee that would never happen again?

Well, it would appear those promises were equally hollow. The Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for building and fixing the failed levees, well…they’re working on it…going on six years later. Which isn’t to say improvements haven’t been made. They have, but do those improvements match all those guarantees and promises President and Congress types threw around during the flood’s aftermath?

Anybody want to by the Crescent City Connection?

Really, I’m selling…

But, back to the Coast Guard and their report. Whereas it’s great they are working on “improvements” to their response, it might be nice to see exactly what they are working on, how they intend to coordinate federal, state and local officials, how they intend to keep financial self-interest and politics out, how their own staff will be trained on any new plans that are so coordinated to ensure each administrative and governmental level is on board, you know, so we don;t wind up with useless sand berms.

It would seem if oil companies have a right to drill out there in the Gulf, and they are…Gulf Coast residents have a right to know what will be done, and a guarantee that it will be done to respond to another spill…even after the anniversary news coverage comes and goes.

After all, coal miners still haven’t gotten protection from cost cutting mine owners.

New Orleans still hasn’t received the levees promised by Congress and the Corp of Engineers.

And now, Gulf Coast residents are waiting to see if that pattern continues or breaks, and they’d probably like to know which, before the next big spill.

Hell, I would…because if there is one thing I’d…uh…oh damn…

From the Times Picayune:

“A year after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Congress has done virtually nothing to address the issues raised by the oil spill — from industry liability limits, to regulatory reform, to coastal restoration, to broader issues of energy policy…”

Continue reading:

A year after Gulf oil spill, Congress is sitting on its hands

Have a nice day.

Well okay then Jane, if you say so…

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Jane says... Have you seen my wig around? I feel naked without it...

The NOAA reopens 7,000 more square miles for fishing in the Gulf:

Expert trained sensory analysts for NOAA sampled 155 samples of finfish from the area, and the agency sent 156 fish samples done in 22 separate composite tests for analysis in NOAA’s labs. The smell testing indicated no oil or dispersant taint, and the chemical analysis found that no levels of hydrocarbons anywhere near the level of concern for humans.

Sounds pretty good…except:

Just three days after the U.S. Coast Guard admiral in charge of the BP oil spill cleanup declared little recoverable surface oil remained in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana fishers Friday found miles-long strings of weathered oil floating toward fragile marshes on the Mississippi River Delta. The discovery…gave ammunition to groups that have insisted the government has overstated clean-up progress, and could force reclosure of key fishing areas only recently reopened… Boat captains working the BP clean-up effort said they have been reporting large areas of surface oil off the delta for more than a week but have seen little response from BP or the Coast Guard, which is in charge of the clean-up…

And then one of the more disturbing lines of the article, something that has been echoed in the press for months:

The captains did not want to be named for fear of losing their clean-up jobs with BP.

I’m thinking that if my bosses came to me, and told me that all of my clients had to show marked improvement or I’d be fired, and if a quick survey of my community showed a complete absence of social work positions, and if I had no other way to earn a living, well…guess what? My clients might improve as quickly as the water in the Gulf of Mexico. Their mental health symptoms might possibly disappear as quickly as the oil.

In my not so scientific estimation, despite these reports being about two different, but adjacent fishing areas, if boat captains are afraid to tell the truth, if findings by independent scientists vary widely from the NOAA’s labs, how are we supposed to trust anybody? In the reopened areas, why are we supposed to assume we are getting the complete story, especially when nobody in the NOAA talks about long term exposure, ever?

And we are supposed to take it on faith why, because Jane says so? Because she has been so willing to release data and procedural information for analysis by others?

This rough climate of misinformation and agenda begs two pointed questions:

Is their any truth in the Gulf of Mexico or is their simply fear? And to Jane Lubchenco of the NOAA – if things are as safe in the Gulf as you claim, will you commit to feeding your family seafood from the Gulf of Mexico four times per week for the next year?

Check out the articles, both from the Times Picayune:

Massive stretches of weathered oil spotted in Gulf of Mexico

NOAA reopens 7,000 more square miles for fishing in the Gulf

Have a nice day.

Good News and Bad News…

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What say you…good news first?

Okay, the good news: British Petroleum, in compliance with Judge Barbier has given their official decision on whether they will or will not seek to use the $75 million dollar liability cap as a way to contain the financial bleeding. They have opted to fulfill at least one promise and not use the cap. They will pay all judgments made against them in full.

The bad news: per BP’s obvious legal right, a large number of lawyers on their payroll will do everything they can to ensure those judgments are as small as possible, and take as long as possible to get to anyone’s bank account. And speaking of people in oil spill limbo, did you catch that article about how the charities are struggling to make ends meet due to the 25% sustained upkeep in need for food and housing assistance since the spill, those same charities that asked BP for help back in June and are still waiting, those same charities that wouldn’t be having this problem were it not for BP’s catastraphuk? Those same charities certainly have not been made right by any stretch, nor have the people who now depend on them, and due to Feinberg and the long legal process (that won’t have a $75 million dollar liability cap), apparently they will be waiting for a long time to come.

Hmm…

The good news: more waters are being opened for fishing, both sport and commercial by the NOAA.

The bad news: While these announcements by the NOAA’s Jane Lubchenco make for good, positive headlines in the newspapers, they also only tell half the story. In no small part due to the way this Gulf Coast Story has been handled, the government’s credibility is low. Between the misinformation from Thad Allen, the controversy about low-balled estimates of flow rates from the well and the pie in the sky oil chart fiasco people are understandably skeptical about government announcements on safety, which of course means people are skeptical about seafood pulled from the Gulf’s waters, which in turn means the market price for said seafood is very low. When a large percentage of the fishermen in the Gulf think the NOAA is full of shit, how is it we are supposed to have confidence in the government’s confidence?

Which brings us back to more bad news:

The people still getting screwed in the Gulf Coast are getting it from BP and the government’s slow legal proceedings – cap or no cap. They’re getting it from the still-slow rate of payout by Feinberg. The charities these people have had to rely on in ways they previously haven’t are getting screwed because BP is still not making it right, thus the charities are not as able to serve the people in need. The NOAA tries to downplay the ecological trouble by making grand pronouncements that don’t help market prices and only further erode their credibility in the eyes of most everyone who is paying attention.

And now that the six month milestone of the Deepwater Horizon explosion has come and gone, the Gulf Coast won’t get much press until Christmas when AP and CNN will do their “how are the holiday families faring” stories.

Man, this has been a negative six hundred words, even for me…

Okay, good news:

Did you read the one about the summit of conservative donors, who are getting together to figure out how to further erode any chance at doing anything about global warming, disparity between rich and poor, consolidation of resources…etc…

No?

Check it out…it’s a hoot!

Memo exposes secret list of conservative donors plotting campaign against Democrats, climate change

Have a nice day.

The Gulf? Don’t Nobody Know Nothing Never – Me Neither, Except for…

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I used to find the fog peaceful...

I remember one night many years ago, walking down Decatur Street in the Quarter as the darkness was coming on, challenging the streetlamps to do their best. It was a beautiful February evening, colder but not freezing and as I glanced in the river’s direction I smiled at the sight of a rolling fog bank, moving slow, silent and concealing. Stopping at the corner of the square, I watched it drift across Decatur, enveloping me, the statue of Andrew Jackson and I kept watching until it swallowed St. Louis Cathedral. 

It was a kind of spooky, but in a pleasant way. 

The fog in the Gulf of Mexico is less so. 

During the hearings yesterday in Houston, set up to investigate the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, it was more of the same. British Petroleum pointed the blame at Transocean. Transocean pointed the blame at British Petroleum, and nobody learned nothing, nobody knew nothing, never. 

The investigator, US Coast Guard Captain Hung Nguyen expressed his frustration with all involved, “I just don’t see how everything gets coordinated,” Nguyen said. “International regulations identify one person in charge that is accountable for and responsible for the safe operation of the vessel…especially when we go into an emergency phase, it might be difficult to have an effective response.” 

Harry Thierens, a London-based BP Vice President for drilling operations was on the stand and Nguyen asked him a series of questions: Is he aware that a lot of questions are being asked about who was in charge?  Can you articulate any lessons learned from previous deadly oil refining and drilling disasters? Has BP done any exercises since April 20th to see how it would respond to a future blowout? 

Thierens responded, “No,” “No,” and “I don’t know.” He did recall more fluidly that it is Transocean who was in charge of maintaining and configuring the equipment on the blowout preventer which would imply the blowout preventer’s failure to clamp down and seal the well was not the fault of British Petroleum. 

Meanwhile, a Halliburton technical adviser Jesse Gagliano was blaming British Petroleum, testifying he told BP officials that their well design would raise the risk for gas to reach the surface, which is ultimately what happened and lead to the explosion. BP’s lawyer challenged Gagliano, questioning why he would sign off on a plan he was so concerned about to which Gagliano responded that his signing off on the plan wasn’t meant as an endorsement. 

After more exchanges of this sort with several others associated with the doomed rig, Nguyen finally said, “Somebody’s got to be in charge here, I just don’t have a clear picture in my mind of who it is here.” 

Me neither, then, or now…and here we are in the Gulf Coast: 

The Gulf’s waters are forever fucked. No they’re not. The seafood is unsafe except it isn’t. The oil plumes are there and they are huge except that a brand new microbe is eating them, unless the science is faulty and the plumes moved with the current. Corexit is a poison they have stopped using except it’s no more harmful than dish soap and at night, mercenaries are pouring it over the oil that isn’t there, except that the oil is. The top kill worked except it didn’t. The static kill worked, kind of. The relief wells may not be necessary except they are. The marshes are being destroyed except for where they are recovering and the government says the Gulf of Mexico is recovering well, but there is still much more to do while BP pulls back on the cleanup because the oil slicks have all but disappeared from the water’s surface; it’s now under the sand of the beaches and breaker islands, except its not there either. Bobby Jindal builds sand berms to hold back oil that isn’t contaminating seafood that isn’t dying off in mass fish kills that may or may not be caused by the spill’s effect on oxygen levels in the water, oxygen levels that might be depleted, or not. British Petroleum denies the leaks in the sea floor, calling it natural seepage from leaks they say aren’t there or if they are, certainly were not caused by anything they might or might not have done and didn’t you know, a giant methane bubble is preparing to erupt from below the sea floor that will kill us all? A study says dispersants are speeding up the bio-accumulation of oil in wildlife that according to the NOAA isn’t happening and the government oil spill numbers that have been approved by independent scientists were never actually approved by independent scientists. The EPA says the water and atmosphere are safe except for the whistleblower from the EPA who says the water and air aren’t safe, but everything is okay now because Tony Hayward is no longer CEO of British Petroleum. Transocean says they can’t complete their own internal investigations because BP won’t turn over evidence they need and British Petroleum denies this, saying they have been in in full compliance with the government’s investigations where some of their employees take the fifth amendment and in the middle of the night, whales are being secreted to Mexico so nobody can watch them die. The EPA tells BP to stop using Corexist and find alternatives while the Coast Guard say they approved it. Cleanup workers are getting sick from exposure to the oil because British Petroleum didn’t give them the respirators that British Petroleum gave them to wear so they wouldn’t get sick from the oil. The government has a methodology to explain their oil spill numbers that you can’t see: the methodology or the oil that is still washing up on the beaches. British Petroleum’s cost cutting might have caused the Deepwater Horizon to explode, if it weren’t for Transocean rigging the blowout preventer wrong and Halliburton incorrectly pouring the cement and apparently somebody was in charge of the rig but since this could get expensive, nobody is sure who is in charge and nobody knows anything about nothing, never. 

And nobody will give their complete information to anybody else. 

This is somewhat of a farce, and seems to work in the favor of those who have the money and are trying their best to keep it, for as long as possible, except they’re not trying to keep their money, instead being responsible for what they might or might not have done…just maybe, at some time. 

Oh for fuck’s sakes. 

Perhaps, a return to basics. 

When it comes to the Deepwater Horizon and the aftermath across the Gulf of Mexico… 

1. 11 men died in the explosion. 

2. Someone at BP, Halliburton or Transocean is lying and maybe all three. 

3. The water in the Gulf of Mexico ain’t as clean as it used to be. 

4. People are suffering. 

And back in New Orleans, that night in the fog after watching it swallow the old church, I got moving again, heading to the Hideout, a now defunct bar enjoyed for cheap drinks, dark lighting and the inevitable fight to watch. That night, I had the good fortune to know I would be meeting friends, I would be coming out of the Mississippi’s blanket to relax, talking and laughing with a few trusted people. 

In the Gulf’s fog, however…there are few friends amongst both those responsible and the government entities trying to reassure that eventually, everyone will be okay. 

Instead, it would seem they are the guys in the shadows up closer to Esplanade, waiting for you to get a little too drunk and a little too unaware, waiting for the NOPD to be nowhere in sight. 

Read the articles, 

Missing Piece in Oil Rig Inquiry: Who Was in Charge? 

Gulf oil spill: BP Not Learning From disaster, investigator charges 

Have a nice day.

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