Manpower and a new saw offer glimmer of hope in the Gulf

Eric Holder

Image by ryanjreilly via Flickr

I admit: The Gulf oil spill makes me so mad that I’ve willed myself not to watch the soiled birds and spoiled marshes, to hear the voices of fishermen and their families who are losing a way of life that’s spanned generations, to read about these same families as they’ve fallen ill in an effort to fight this plague that has destroyed their livelihood.

I was thrilled to watch BP’s stock crash and burn Tuesday; I wouldn’t be upset if the company goes bankrupt. And I surely hope Attorney General Eric Holder was serious Tuesday when he launched a criminal and civil investigation and said he planned to “prosecute to the fullest extent” anyone who had broken the law in connection with the oil spill.  But I am skeptical, though legal scholars speculated in a Christian Science Monitor article, that this time someone might actually go to jail (if so, undoubtedly the country club variety).

In calmer moments, I realize this is not about revenge — though it’s certainly about culpability. More so, however, it is about minimizing the damage. So even as BP bungled through another day yesterday of trying to mitigate the mess it has propagated before succeeding today in sawing through a main pipe in an attempt to finally cap the well,  I saw some slight hope in the cover story of today’s USA Today.  It tells of the enormous human effort to save the Louisiana and neighboring coastlines from devastation.

The sheer statistics are staggering:

  • Some 17,500 National Guard troops have been committed to the cleanup.
  • More than 20,000 government and private contract workers are involved.
  • More than 1,900 vessels are engaged, too.
  • In all, they’ve recovered nearly 14 million gallons of oily water.

And not a single Republican governor is complaining about big government.

“It’s all about the people at this point,” Jeffrey Short, a former government chemist who was involved in the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 20 years ago, (told USA Today). “None of the high-tech solutions have worked, but … there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects of this.”

Now, with today’s announcement that BP has succeeded in cutting a key pipe again raising hope of capping the spewing undersea well, technology could soon team with humanity in limiting  the damages of what already is the worst oil disaster in United States history.  (There have been several false hopes before so I’ll wait skeptically to see what actually happens.)

As the Republican Party of “drill, baby, drill” tries to gain traction by criticizing President Obama’s response, his administration can nonetheless begin to take heart that the final days of the open-ended gusher may be approaching.

 But the administration also should be careful to follow through on the aggressive course it set during Holder’s Tuesday announcement.  If his words turn out to be hollow rhetoric, if BP and its masters of the universe walk away with a $10 million or $20 million or $100 million slap on the wrist, then the administration should and will be held accountable for what happened.

Someone — in this case BP — must pay for this kind of destruction. And litigation must be followed with failsafe safety regulations that make sure such a catastrophe doesn’t happen again and that, if it does, weeks and months of failed experimental fixes don’t follow as the catastrophe spreads.

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About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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