If Republicans ran the country

Well, they used to, and their response to the BP disaster ought to remind voters why they never should again


Joan Walsh
June 23, 2010 9:23AM (UTC)

Judge Martin Feldman's decision to block the Obama administration's six-month deepwater oil-drilling moratorium was ridiculous, but it had a bracing, clarifying effect. (I talked about it on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" today; video below.) The Reagan-appointed judge, with investments in 18 different energy industry firms (including Gulf disaster partners Transocean and Halliburton), perfectly laid out the GOP approach to government and justice. Sure, the BP disaster was worrisome, but the government "simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country" imposed by the moratorium, Feldman ruled.

Got that? Eleven people died on the Deepwater Horizon. Thousands have lost their livelihoods indefinitely. We still don't know when, maybe even if, the rig will stop spewing regular Exxon Valdez levels of oil into the Gulf. There is no realistic estimate right now of the economic or ecological damage the disaster caused. But according to Feldman, it's "arbitrary and capricious" and an "immeasurable" burden for the government to shut down the other 33 deepwater wells (apart from the 3,600 shallower Gulf rigs) for six months while we figure out what happened. If you agree with Feldman, vote Republican, and good luck.

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Feldman's core claim is that as long as we don't know exactly why the Deepwater Horizon blew out, the deepwater drilling moratorium is an overreaction. OK, it's true we don't know exactly what happened – but we know two crucial things. We know BP cut corners and dollars on safety equipment and procedures at every turn before the accident. And we know that BP and the rest of the industry, with the collusion of regulators, has managed to avoid developing worst-case scenario cleanup plans for this kind of disaster. The moratorium was an effort to see whether the other 33 rigs had cut similar safety corners and, maybe, whether any of them might have a clue about what to do in the event of a catastrophe. That's neither capricious nor arbitrary.

What seems capricious and arbitrary to me is the way Gulf Coast Republicans like Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour and others have criticized President Obama for his allegedly inadequate response to BP's screw-up, while opposing his deepwater drilling moratorium. Then we had ranking House Republican Energy and Commerce member Joe Barton apologize to BP for the Obama administration's work leveraging a $20 billion victim's fund, which Barton and Rush Limbaugh and other leading Republicans called a "shakedown." Today on "Hardball" Louisiana GOP Rep. Steve Scalise refused to repudiate Limbaugh and Barton's claim, insisting he was worried the $20 million might become a "slush fund" spent by "government bureaucracy." These guys are shameless.

Off-year elections are supposed to be great for the party that's out of power, and there's no doubt Democrats will lose some seats in November. But they can only hope that Republicans like Barton and Scalise and His Honor Martin Feldman make it plain for voters that Republicans exist to fight for business against the consumer on every front. Here's my segment on "The Ed Show" talking about Feldman's ruling:

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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