BP says its “top-kill” attempt to stanch the oil and gas hemorrhaging has failed. Now what? It’s beginning to look like we’re going to have to watch that thing befoul the Gulf at least through August, when the relief well will have been drilled. Assuming the relief well works, of course, which is not a sure thing.
Get this: BP’s internal documents and other evidence shows that the company’s concern about the stability of that well far pre-dated the blowout (by 11 months, it appears), and that the company was cutting safety corners for some time — with government approval!
I am largely sympathetic to the view David Brooks has been airing lately, that Americans are unrealistic about what government can do in a disaster, falsely assuming that Washington can swoop in and solve anything if only it wants to. Brooks says that George W. Bush took some unfair criticism in this regard on Katrina, and Obama’s in the same fix on the oil spill. That said, what I believe Brooks misses, or at least doesn’t give sufficient attention to, is how government didn’t do all it should have done — or even close — to guard against catastrophe.
It is unrealistic to expect government — federal, state or local — to swoop swiftly in and fix everything displaced and wrecked by a hurricane like Katrina. What enraged me is what we learned about how local government in Louisiana failed to have adequate plans in place for this disaster everybody has known for generations was coming. What enraged me at the federal government was how the president put that nitwit Brownie in charge of FEMA — as if disaster management was so unimportant that it could be entrusted to a political hack. Overall, it was the failure of government to take its responsibilities to prepare for a crisis seriously that was so infuriating.
In the BP disaster, we see that the oil industry captured the regulators who were supposed to be looking out for the public interest. I am not one of those conservatives who is ideologically hostile to regulation. Because I believe in human fallibility, I believe that we must have safeguards built into any system to save us from ourselves and our ineradicable tendency toward corruption (by “corruption,” I don’t mean bribe-taking, but rather the broader, philosophical meaning of the word, which entails giving in to temptations to cut corners, to save money, to take the easy way out instead of doing the right but hard thing, etc.). In other words, I believe in regulation because of the kind of conservative I am. I believe there is certainly a such thing as too much regulation, and foolish regulation, but the line between responsible government stewardship of private industry and onerous regulation exists far away from the way the federal government looks after the oil and gas industry.
We will always have disasters. Katrina was an act of God. But the Deepwater Horizon is looking like it was an act of man, and preventable, if only men had done their duties. This catastrophe is a moral failure too.
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About Rod Dreher
Rod Dreher is director of publications at the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy that focuses on science, religion, economics and morality. A journalist with over 20 years of experience, Dreher has written for The Dallas Morning News, the New York Post, and other newspapers and journals. He is author of the book "Crunchy Cons." Archives of his previous Beliefnet blog, "Crunchy Con," can be found here. He and his family live in Philadelphia.