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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Logic? Who Needs It? We're Talking About Money Here

Judge FeldmanEarlier this week, I wrote briefly about the decision by US District Court Judge Martin Feldman to strike down the Obama administraton's six month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. Heavily invested [PDF] in oil and energy companies, Feldman's ruling seems more than a little... Well, let's say, "off."

See, it's not the investments themselves that throw doubt on the ruling. After all, it's entirely possible for a ruling to be good for investors and just at the same time. It's that his logic seems to be a real stretch. In his decision, Feldman wrote, "The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster. What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm." So despite the the failure of a offshore platform anyone at BP, Transocean, or Halliburton would've told you was safe, we can't assume that other platforms are dangerous. Let me put this to you another way. The fact that there weren't enough lifeboats on the Titanic is no reason to start putting lifeboats on other ships. There's no proof that other ships might sink. So let's not get crazy.

Of course, there is reason to believe that other rigs are just as screwed up as Deepwater Horizon. For one, the overseeing agency -- the Minerals Management Service -- has been completely dysfunctional since 2002 at least. In 2008, an Interior Department's Inspector General for a deeply corrupt agency, with regulators doing cocaine and meth -- meth -- with lobbyists, open bribery, and a "culture of marketing," where the focus wasn't on extracting safely, but just extracting more. What Feldman is saying is, "The meth-head says the rigs are fine -- who are we to question that? Twitchy McFrybrain here is, after all, the expert."

And, if further evidence is needed, you can point to the fact that all the response plans for all the oil rigs are all wrong in exactly the same way. In reviewing the plans, Rep. Ed Markey was struck by the fact that the only real differences between different company's plans were the logos on the covers. "What we found was that Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell and BP have response plans that are virtually identical," he wrote. "The plans cite identical response capabilities and tout identical ineffective equipment. In some cases, they use the exact same words and made the exact same assurances... The covers of the five response plans are different colors, but the content is ninety percent identical."

In case of emergency, the plans call on an expert to be called -- complete with contact information -- who's dead. Responders are warned to be careful not to disturb walrus habitats, in the Gulf of Mexico. The Associated Press described the response plans as a "slapdash effort to follow environmental rules." To look at all this -- the drug use, the corruption, the dead experts and non-existent walruses -- and think, "Yup. Looks like these fellas have got it together," is a failure of logic that I don't have words to adequately describe. This isn't just a bad ruling, this may stand for quite some time as the worst-case example of a bad ruling.

For their part, the Obama administration has a remedy to Feldman's incompetence:


The Obama administration may let certain deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico resume during a six-month halt, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

Rules to be issued "will include the criteria under which it is appropriate to take a look at the lifting of the moratoria," Salazar said today in Washington at a hearing of a Senate Appropriations Committee panel.

A six-month halt to deepwater exploration, imposed last month by President Barack Obama in response to the BP Plc spill, was overturned yesterday by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans. The administration said it will appeal the decision, and Salazar announced he will reformulate the rules. Republicans and Gulf Coast Democrats have said the ban is too broad and jeopardizes tens of thousands of jobs.

I never said it was a good remedy. If it were me, I'd issue a new moratorium on drilling over 501 feet (the ban struck down was on 500 feet or more), then 502, 503, until the six months had passed. Sure, a lot of people are out of work while the moratorium is in place, but what about all the people put out of work by the spill? You've got charter boats, fishing boats, shrimpers, oyster fishermen, tourism industry people, etc. Why are they less important than people working in the oil industry? If there's another blowout, they're even more screwed. And who was the idiot who promised oil companies they'd be able to keep people working forever anyway? What entitlement do they have?

If Judge Martin Feldman's ruling proves anything, it's that once money becomes involved, people get stupid. If simple common sense can't prevail, if the freakin' obvious isn't proof enough, where can we go from here but down?


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