Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oily Taints

Frank Pentangeli's appearance before a Congressional committee in Godfather 2 had nothing on Tony Hayward's. He couldn't recall, he wasn't sure, he never heard of Michael Corleone. There was even a broken-down Texas Republican to attest to his good character and apologize for the verbal waterboarding he endured at the hands of Barack Obama and Eric "The Enforcer" Holder. At least he didn't invoke the Fifth Amendment -- but neither did Frankie Five Angels.

In a possibly unrelated development, Hayward has disappeared from BP's television spots, replaced by a sensitive-looking black man identified as the company's claims officer. He feels your pain, and his accent doesn't remind people of every Brit movie villain since Sydney Greenstreet. I look forward to meeting Petey the Pelican, scrubbed clean and relocated to south Florida at no cost to the taxpayer...because BP cares.

Of course, this hearing resulted in no actual plans for action -- much like the President's breathlessly awaited (at least by MSNBC) Oval Office speech on Tuesday. Eighteen minutes of platitudes, including five minutes of religiosity, like he was in a hurry to get upstairs, take off his shoes and watch an NCIS rerun. It won't do.

I have nothing to offer in the present catastrophe, but here at the Sky we take the long view. This kind of thing has happened before, as Rachel Maddow detailed the other night. It will happen again, and again, as long as oil is pumped. Pipes rupture, rigs are damaged, tankers run aground. Oil companies find oil, drill for oil, refine oil and sell oil. The one thing they don't do is clean up oil. They're no good at it, because no one has ever forced them to learn, because their vast wealth makes them impervious to authority. This is the moment in history for that to change.

We need to create an agency along the lines of the National Transportation Safety Board. Whether an airliner crashes into a mountain or a bus goes off the highway, the NTSB is there within hours. As soon as search-and-rescue is complete they take charge of the site and stay there until they find out what caused the accident, even if they have to collect airplane parts from the bottom of the ocean and glue them back together. Their recommendations result in design changes and operational adjustments that prevent further accidents. It's all they do, and they do it so well that other countries frequently request their help.

The agency I have in mind would have the same relationship to oil spills. It would be part of the Department of Homeland Security -- not, I stress, Interior, which has been snuggling with the oil companies at least since the Harding Administration. It would develop and master technology as yet undreamed of, apparently, with all necessary equipment and protective gear. It would not have to depend on the Coast Guard, the National Guard, or good-hearted volunteers with shampoo and toothbrushes. Best of all, it would cost the taxpayer nothing, for it would be cheerfully funded by the oil companies, if they want to go on doing business here. I think five percent of their annual gross profit is fair. We don't want future CEOs to suffer the way Tony Hayward has suffered, having to re-arrange his schedule and change his holiday plans and all. We'll do the job and you'll pay for it, OK? OK.

I hope this is the last time I will have to address this subject.



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