2010 - %3, May

Timeline: The Gulf Oil Disaster

| Fri May 28, 2010 12:23 PM EDT

A lot has happened in the month since BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, sunk, and caused the worst oil spill in US history. To help keep track of the events, we've put together a handy timeline of the disaster and some of the history behind it, from BP's green rebranding effort to the Mineral and Management Service's record of lax oversight. It's a work in progress, so check back for the latest developments and more background info in the days ahead. Slide along the timeline using the scroll bar on the bottom; zoom in and out using the slider on the left side. Or view a full-screen version of the timeline here.

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As BP Attempts to Stop the Well, PR Disaster Continues

| Fri May 28, 2010 11:40 AM EDT

You can find the latest on environmental politics over on Blue Marble. Here are the most recent headlines:

Environment Makes a Comeback (Except Among Republicans)

In the wake of the BP disaster, Americans now say that the environmental considerations should take precedent over energy development. Well, at least Americans who aren't Republicans.

BP Wants Cases Heard by Judge with Oil Ties

The oil giant has asked for a judge in Houston with significant ties to the oil industry to handle all the lawsuits against the company.

BP Spill Officially Worst In US History

The Gulf spill, now two to five times larger than previously estimated, has surpassed the Exxon Valdez as the worst in the United States. It may even make it on the list of worst oil disasters in world history.

Congressmen Press BP for More Answers

Henry Waxman wants to know why BP is hiding crucial information from House investigators. Trust me, you really don't want to make Waxman mad.

Obama Faces Tough Questions on BP Spill

Five weeks into the Gulf disaster, Obama meets the press.

As BP Stops the Well, Other Problems Mount

The latest effort to stop the well seem to be working. But can BP stop the PR disaster still unfolding?

MMS Head Canned

Elizabeth Birnbaum, head of the beleaguered Minerals Management Service at the Department of Interior, takes the fall in the wake of the Gulf spill.

The Sestak Quid Pro Quo

| Fri May 28, 2010 11:27 AM EDT

Peter Baker provides some further information about what kind of job was offered to Joe Sestak last year:

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, asked [Bill] Clinton to explore the possibilities last summer, according to the briefed individuals, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the politically charged situation. Mr. Sestak said no and went on to win last week’s Pennsylvania Democratic primary against Senator Arlen Specter.

The White House did not offer Mr. Sestak a full-time paid position because Mr. Emanuel wanted him to stay in the House rather than risk losing his seat. Among the positions explored by the White House was an appointment to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which provides independent oversight and advice the president. But White House officials discovered it would not work because Mr. Sestak could not serve on the board while still serving in Congress.

....The office of Robert F. Bauer, the White House counsel, has concluded that Mr. Emanuel’s proposal did not violate laws prohibiting government employees from promising employment as a reward for political activity because the position being offered was unpaid. The office also found other examples of presidents offering positions to political allies to achieve political aims.

This explains a lot. The job offer really was a quid pro quo because an unpaid appointment would have been an additional position, not a replacement for his current job, and it was contingent on Sestak dropping out of the primary. And since Bill Clinton was involved, this ends up indirectly involving Hillary Clinton too.

This still strikes me as big nothingburger: presidents engage in political horsetrading all the time. At the same time, it's starting to make a little more sense why everyone has been so reticent to talk about it. Regardless, I still think this is a 2-day story once the White House and Sestak produce more details. A week tops. There's just nothing serious here.

Environment Makes a Comeback (Except Among Republicans)

| Fri May 28, 2010 11:09 AM EDT

Public concern about the environment has made a sharp upward turn in the weeks since the Gulf spill, according to new polling data from Gallup. In surveys asking Americans which is more important, energy production or the environment, the preference has flipped in just two months.

When Gallup asked in March, 50 percent said energy should take precedence over the environment, while 43 percent said environment should be more important. With millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf—the consequence of policies that prioritize development over conservation—the numbers have shifted. Now 55 percent say the environment is most important, compared to 39 percent who favor energy production. Environment was trending downward over the past two years until this incident.

This isn't true, however, for Republicans. The split on the question remains unchanged even in the wake of the disaster—62 percent favor energy development and 30 percent picked the environment.

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"Weekend Chasing Aliens" Contest in AZ

| Fri May 28, 2010 10:52 AM EDT

Consider this a new nadir in the nation's feverish immigration debate, sparked by Arizona's controversial law. A Columbus, Ohio radio station thought it smart—or clever, or whatever—to run a contest offering listeners the chance to visit Phoenix, where "Americans are proud and illegals are scared," as the station put it, to "spend a weekend chasing aliens and spending cash in the desert, just make sure you have your green card!"

The station, 610 WTVN, launched the contest in reaction to Columbus mayor Michael Coleman's decision to ban city employees from visiting Arizona on official business in protest of that state's immigration law. Apparently, the contest has already expired, but here's the full description of the contest and an ad touting it, via Think Progress:

The text from the ad says:

610 WTVN would like to send you where Americans are proud and illegals are scared, sunny Phoenix, Arizona! You'll spend a weekend chasing aliens and spending cash in the desert, just make sure you've got your green card! Win round trip airfare to Phoenix, hotel accomodations, and a few pesos in spending cash - just register below!

Needless to say, local community groups have railed on the radio station for the "chase an alien" contest. Said Leonardo Ramos, president of Colombianos in Ohio. "This is clearly the chilling effect of what is happening in Arizona with SB 1070. We believe that our community must respect and protect all people." (You can read the full press release bashing the station here.) Members of community groups said they'll also send letters to the general manager of Clear Channel in Columbus.

BP Wants Cases Heard by Judge with Oil Ties

| Fri May 28, 2010 10:36 AM EDT

BP CEO Tony Hayward acknowledged Friday that the Deepwater Horizon spill is an "environmental disaster" – rather than, as he said two weeks ago, "relatively tiny." And BP keeps saying that it intends to pay all costs related to the disaster in the Gulf. Sorry, scratch that, "all legitimate claims" (legitimate is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and the company's judgment is questionable, to say the least). The Obama administration says they believe BP.

But we're already seeing signs that the company is trying to game the system. This week, BP asked the courts to give all pre-trial issues for the 98 lawsuits already filed against the company to a single federal judge–one that happens to have significant ties to the oil industry. The Miami Herald reports:

That judge, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, has traveled the world giving lectures on ethics for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, a professional association and research group that works with BP and other oil companies. The organization pays his travel expenses.
Hughes has also collected royalties from several energy companies, including ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy, from investments in mineral rights, his financial disclosure forms show.

The article points out that Hughes has ruled both for and against oil companies in previous cases. But it seems clear that the company wants someone to handle these suits who is more likely to be sympathetic to the company's views. BP also wants the cases heard in Houston, home of its US corporate headquarters, since it's easier for them than dealing with seven different courts in five states, most of them directly affected by the spill. The other option for consolidating the cases is in the New Orleans district court, but BP would likely get far less sympathy in the area most-impacted by this disaster.

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Ron Paul's DADT Reversal

| Fri May 28, 2010 10:25 AM EDT

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) was one of only five House Republicans to support the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy on gay servicemembers, which passed the House on a 234-194 vote last night. But Paul's vote came as a bit of a surprise. An unabashed foe of gay marriage, Paul had a decidedly squeamish stance on gay rights—even prompting actor Sacha Baron Cohen to ambush the Texas Republican for his film "Bruno." And Paul stated throughout his 2008 presidential campaign that he thought the military's policy should stand, though he had some concerns about its enforcement.

When asked about DADT repeal in June 2007, Paul told CNN:

I think the current policy is a decent policy. And the problem that we have with dealing with this subject is we see people as groups, as they belong to certain groups and that they derive their rights as belonging to groups. We don't get our rights because we're gays or women or minorities. We get our rights from our creator as individuals. So every individual should be treated the same way.

So if there is homosexual behavior in the military that is disruptive, it should be dealt with. But if there's heterosexual sexual behavior that is disruptive, it should be dealt with.

A month later, in an interview with Google, Paul responded similarly: "'Don't ask, don't tell' doesn't sound all that bad to me because as an employer, I've never asked them [employees] anything and I don't want them to tell me anything."

But while Paul said that he supported DADT in theory, he began to express some of his concerns about the policy. "I think the way it's enforced is bad. Because, literally, if somebody is a very, very good individual working for our military—and I met one just the other day in my office, who was a translator—and he was kicked out for really no good reason at all. I would want to change that, I don't support that interpretation."

It's encouraging that Paul has finally managed to fit DADT repeal into his ideological universe. (Former Republican—now independent—Florida Senate candidate Charlie Crist also flipped his stance to support the repeal, just days before the House vote.) And Paul's reversal on the issue begs the questions as to whether his son—Kentucky GOP Senate candidate and Civil Rights Act skeptic Rand Paul—feels the same way. 

Can the Tea Party Steal Nevada?

| Fri May 28, 2010 9:35 AM EDT

Will the Tea Party score another early victory, this time in Nevada's June 8th GOP primary? The latest Mason-Dixon/Las Vega Review-Journal poll suggests as much. GOP frontrunner Sue Lowden, with 30 percent support, has seen her once-formidable lead shrink to a meager one-point margin over Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-endorsed, more conservative candidate eyeing incumbent Harry Reid's Senate seat this fall. Danny Tarkanian, the third major candidate in Nevada's GOP primary, has 23 percent support. Angle's 29 percent support signals a major surge for the former Nevada assemblywoman, given she only had 13 percent support a month ago, polls show.

Angle's rise can be attributed to a number of sources. The Tea Party darling's campaign has been outright bashing Sue Lowden's conservative cred, running ads that say she supported state spending increases, raised taxes, and even, god forbid, backed Harry Reid. (Lowden refutes these claims.) Lowden herself hasn't been helping her cause, either: There was Chickengate; then Tarkanian accused her of breaking campaign finance law by accepting an RV from a donor; and more recently she pulled a Rand Paul by stumbling when asked about her views on the Civil Rights Act. (She failed to answer the question, then released a statement afterward saying, yes, she supports it.) Not that Angle has been without controversy herself—she's taken heat for alleged ties to the Church of Scientology.

One of the biggest causes for Lowden's plummet, though, has been Harry Reid. As Reid's campaign sees it, they'd much rather face Sharron Angle, a more controversial and less established figure, then Lowden, a creature of the GOP establishment. Reid's team has unleashed a barrage of attacks on Lowden, doing everything they can to sink her run for the GOP candidacy this fall and open the door to Angle. "[Angle is] the most polarizing," said Mason-Dixon polling director Brad Coker. "She's clearly the most conservative. But that 20 percent of independent voters are the ones who are going to decide this election. And it's easier for them to pick a Lowden or even a Tarkanian."

Which is to say, out in Nevada, the Tea Party might win the primary battle, but if they do, odds are Harry Reid will win the war.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 28, 2010

Fri May 28, 2010 7:43 AM EDT

 

A Soldiers attaches a ratchet strap to a jingle truck on Combat Outpost Jaghato, Afghanistan, on May 20, 2010. Ratchet straps are used to secure a shipping container for transport. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Deyonte Mosley.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday May 28

| Fri May 28, 2010 7:20 AM EDT

News on the environment and health from our other blogs.

Federal Coverage: Why BP is not a federal failure like Katrina, but still a mess.

Show and Tell: The BP and Obama press conference was more show than substance.

Cost of Health: If Republicans want to avoid universal care, they better address costs.

Bad to Worse: BP's plan to plug the pipe is just the least bad (possibly) of worse options.

Slippery: BP may be intentionally low-balling damage estimates to escape penalties.

Size Matters: The size of the spill relates to how much BP will have to pay in fines.

On Camera: Efforts to plug the BP pipe leak will be televised after all.

Death Sentence: Broken, poor medical equipment is hastening one prisoner's death.