Ineffective regulations, reckless profiteering
It is impossible to understand why an accident like
the Deepwater Horizon disaster was inevitable without looking back on an era
when the energy industry dominated government. The oil bidness, as it is known
affectionately in Texas,
could do no wrong under the Bush-Cheney administration, which was run by former
oil executives and their lobbyists. Remember that among the top priorities of
the secretive energy task force run by Vice President Dick Cheney was relief
for Big Oil from "burdensome" environmental regulations.
As The New
York Times reported recently, the Washington
zeal for deregulation let offshore oil drilling proceed virtually without
interference from government, even though scientists and engineers repeatedly
raised safety and environmental concerns over the past decade. Warned
specifically that the blowout-prevention technology drillers were relying on to
avoid an explosive spill was faulty as long ago as 2000, the oil industry did
nothing except to drill deeper.
As for the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the
Interior Department agency responsible for overseeing the drilling operations,
it did nothing, either—except to reduce its inspections of safety equipment.
Presumably, the MMS failed to act because it was infested with crooked
officials who actually took drugs and engaged in sexual relationships with oil
industry personnel—and accepted bribes from them, too. The oil industry was
allowed to drill, baby, drill wherever it wanted, often without even paying
royalties to the federal government.
But the culture of American government, from the
executive branch to Congress and even the judiciary, has been infected with a
disease deeper than corruption: an ideological deference to corporate power, in
the name of "free markets" and efficiency, that enriches a wealthy
few at the expense of the nation. While this pattern can be detected across
many sectors of the economy, its effects are now felt most acutely in the
financial and energy sectors, whose power over government is legendary.
Such an imbalanced system encourages financial firms
to take enormous risks, pocket the profits and let the taxpayers, workers and
communities suffer the consequences. And the same system encourages oil
companies to take enormous risks of a different kind, resist strict
environmental requirements, book huge profits—and then let the rest of us cope
with the consequences of their devastating pollution (although we can hope that
BP will pay for at least part of the Gulf cleanup).
Corporate Profits Trump Safety and Natural
Free-market ideologues and other corporate shills
insist that this is the most efficient way to do business, which is true enough
for a corporate manager or a stockholder. But it isn't very efficient for the
nation whose public wealth, natural resources and future prosperity are
depleted by these ruinous practices.
we have been told for more than three decades that there is indeed no other way
to run an economy—and certainly not if we wish to preserve our traditional
freedoms. But looking around the world, it's easy to see through those old
platitudes. Countries that impose stronger regulation on their financial
sectors did not endure the same kind of disruption we did—and emerged more
swiftly from the recession. Countries that impose strict oversight on their
energy sectors, including offshore drilling, are exemplary in protecting worker
and environmental safety.
The world's best record on offshore oil is enjoyed
by Norway, a free and
democratic country where North Sea oil
provides not only a major source of employment, but the funding for universal
health care, education and a panoply of other important benefits. In Norway, oil
drillers are expected to implement the most advanced systems of environmental
protection. That's because the Norwegian people own the oil—and the oilmen
answer to them.