Before we indict, try, convict, and sentence BP for the Deepwater
Horizon catastrophe, we should consider the culpability of many others
who bear direct or indirect responsibility for the environmental disaster
we now face. The others include those of us in Louisiana, voters across
the country, and the governments of the oil producing Gulf Coast states
, and the federal government.In Louisiana we have always tried to have everything commercial: fishing, recreational boating and tourism, wetlands and coastal preservation, and all that the oil industry brings to the state in jobs and income. Rationally we may have come to understand some of the conflicts inherent in these varied interests, but we have not acted and voted accordingly.
Voters elsewhere have wanted the oil produced in the Gulf but have not been supportive in regulating the oil industry, developing other energy sources, or preserving the coastal environment. For most Americans our wetlands are an abstraction, relevant only to people "down there" but not a reality they should be concerned about. On a broader level we in the United States have never come to terms with our energy needs; voters do not vote green and do not support candidates who suggests that energy and environmental issues must be a national priority.
Our Louisiana political leaders and their counterparts at the federal level bear most of the responsibility for the situation we are in they have not educated the public on critical issues. Leading reluctant voters to embracing both alternative energy sources and environmental preservation is not easy, but how many have tried in a consistent long term way? Effective political leaders must deal with the necessity of being elected and the obligation to lead. The latter of those two tasks is clearly the more difficult and one that few have attempted. Helping shape the national discourse is their job, and they have largely failed in what is admittedly a risky but necessary effort.
Political leaders have failed other ways as well at regulating an industry, preparing for a major emergency, and managing the response to the spill. I am not an expert on this issue, but I am dismayed by what appears to be a totally fragmented governmental effort to deal with Deepwater Horizon in the past month and a half. Other than a Coast Guard Admiral, who is actually in charge, who represents us, and whose job is on the line? The more I follow the crisis the more concerned I am that so many state and federal agencies oversee the oil industry in normal circumstances that the effect is that no one is in charge of the industry. If fragmented regulation is the norm, then the problem becomes even worse in an emergency.
BP will pay a high price for what has happened, but the price to the public is already even higher. If we hold only BP accountable then we have learned nothing and nothing will change. Louisiana's marshes are fouled, a third of the Gulf is closed to fishing, and the spill is moving closer and closer to the shores of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Continuing business and politics as usual is not an acceptable outcome.