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Protecting our environment

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Since the onset of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, politicians and pundits have been wringing their hands. One faction focuses their attention on extracting punishment and another focuses on how to help the animals and the people who are affected. Both are angry at Obama for not doing more. Perhaps he should take a more visible and active role, but it is not so clear what he can do that would be effective.

An interesting if somewhat profane report has claimed with some authority that damage control is indeed possible, but it would have required preparation for the catastrophe before it happened. No such preparation was done because preparing for disaster was left as BP's responsibility but they had little incentive to do so. No one made them prepare, it would have cost some money and their only emphasis to make money.

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Perhaps punishing the BP executives can change their future motivations, but that is at best a maybe. Like children, oil executives think they can always get away with doing what they want and that harm will never come to them.

So what is to be done? Without doubt we are not done drilling for oil. Our economy is too dependent on this fuel to get off of it quickly, but it is just foolish to risk future catastrophes of this sort.

What is needed is for government to step in at take responsibility for protecting the environment. In the case of oil spills, a new agency, the OSPA (Oil Spill Protection Agency) may be needed, though possibly this could be part of the Coast Guard. The new agency could be generously funded through a new tax on oil extraction and the agency would have overall responsibility for protecting the environment from oil spills. It would have no responsibility at all for encouraging drilling or oil extraction.

OSPA would oversee drilling to make sure it is done safely and properly, but OSPA would itself be charged with having proper equipment readily available to protect the oceans and marshes from oil spills. Cleanup would be OSPA's responsibility, not the oil company; of course fines would be imposed on the responsible oil company to pay OSPA's costs for the cleanup activity.

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A concerned citizen and former mathematician/engineer now retired and living in rural Maine.

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