Monday, May 17, 2010

High-profile federal investigation into gulf oil spill won't answer the big questions

At least U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to heed calls from lawmakers for an investigation into the potentially catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but even the authority of the White House won't be enough to resolve the problem unless
the young government is willing to ask the questions nobody wants to answer. An unnamed White House official said Monday that Obama will establish a commission to investigate the massive spill, which started in late April and now threatens to contaminate some of the nation's richest fishing areas and most beautiful beaches, according to Cable News Network (CNN). Eight senators had formally requested an investigation to determine whether oil giant BP, which used to go by British Petroleum, violated any laws leading up to the explosion that destroyed its Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico and started the oil leaking more than a mile under the surface. "The commission will take into account the investigations under way concerning the causes of the spill and explore a range of issues," the official told CNN, including industry practices, rig safety, federal governmental oversight and environmental review. That's fine in theory, and Obama has raised a lot of hopes with his harsh criticism of companies involved with the Deepwater Horizon and his pledge to break up the often incestuous relationship between the oil industry and government regulators. But solving the basic problem raised by the Gulf of Mexico spill, and the Exxon Valdez and hundreds or thousands of spills before that, will be a lot harder. If we're drilling for fossil fuels, spills are unavoidable. They don't have to be as bad as this one, but they're going to happen. The relationship that needs to change is the one between U.S. citizens and their automobiles, and that will require the government to raise prices by imposing new taxes, reducing petroleum imports through tariffs, stopping the construction of so many highways and starting to invest in the kinds of public transportation that will make automobiles less of a necessity.

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