If any good comes from the BP Gulf oil blowout, it will be a serious effort to reform America’s energy policy and reduce our dependence on oil. President Obama connected the disaster to the need for a modern energy policy that ends our dependence on oil in his first national address from the Oval Office last week. PBS NewsHour has great online coverage of the President’s address, annotating the text of the speech with comments and analysis from a panel of experts (I was honored to be included). The President’s address lacked specifics, but his general message is right on – we need to break our oil addiction.
Lawyers love to play the blame game and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil blowout and resulting environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico gives us plenty of blame to play with.
Most obvious is BP, the deep-pocket corporation that makes billions of dollars a year while evidently cutting corners on safety and environmental regulations. The federal government is another obvious target, with years of lax oversight and corruption at Minerals Management Service, the agency that should be protecting the public and the environment from the risks of offshore oil drilling.
Many politicians and commentators have their own targets to blame, conveniently fitting with their respective agendas — blame the environmentalists for pushing oil companies to drill in dangerous deepwater locations, blame the oil industry for ignoring environmental risks — the list goes on and on.
If it were simply a matter of placing blame, we could easily solve this problem and prevent future disasters by filing lawsuits, firing government officials and passing popular sounding new laws like the “Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act” being debated in Congress.
We should be doing all of these things, and the measures proposed by President Obama in his Oval Office speech are steps in the right direction – having BP create a fund for victims, putting a new sheriff in charge at the federal Minerals Management Service and increasing the tax on oil production to pay for clean-up efforts.
But the catch with the blame game is that it focuses our attention on immediate problems and not fundamental solutions. The fundamental solution to oil disasters is not compensating victims, improving government agencies and enacting tougher safety regulations — worthy as they are. The fundamental solution is breaking our country’s dependence on oil. It won’t be cheap and it won’t be easy. But if we don’t do it now, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
For more on the BP Gulf oil blowout liability issues and energy policy reform, see these videos of my recent interviews on PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the Riz Khan Show (Al Jazeera English Network), and NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin.