By Ruth Conniff on May 25, 2010

As oil soaks the coast of Louisiana, the fingerpointing has begun. Government officials, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BP, executives are trading accusations. But the blame-sharing leads nowhere. A front-page story in The New York Times points to "the enduring laxity of federal regulation of offshore operations." The current disaster "has shown the government to be almost wholly at the mercy of BP . . . to stop the bleeding well."

Meanwhile, estimates of the size of the disaster keep getting worse. From the 5,000 barrels a day BP claimed and the media widely reported on the first day after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are now moving their estimates up to 25,000 to 80,000 barrels a day, with ten-mile-long plumes of oil spreading deep in the Gulf waters. No one knows for sure how much oil is pouring into the Gulf, but Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said on Good Morning America that there is no doubt it is the worst spill in American history.

Browner "also confirmed that the government is the one in charge, issuing orders to BP with regards to the clean-up," says George Stephanopoulus. But that line is looking pretty thin given not only the government's reliance on BP for technology and equipment to try to stop the leak, but also the history of cravenness by the company and ineffectual enforcement by the feds.

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For many years, BP has been breaking the law, cutting corners on safety, causing massive environmental damage, and getting away with it.

Pro-Publica's Abrahm Lustgarten has been reporting on BP wrongdoing for years, first for Fortune Magazine and now for the nonprofit investigative reporting enterprise. Lustgarten points out that the EPA could ban BP from receiving government contracts or drilling in federally controlled oil fields, through a process called "discretionary debarment."

"If this were imposed on BP, it would cancel not only the company's contracts to sell fuel to the military but prohibit BP from leasing or renewing drilling leases on federal land," Lustgarten writes. "In the worst cast, it could also lead to the cancellation of BP's existing federal leases, worth billions of dollars."

For years, the company has been in the EPA's debarment attorneys' crosshairs, but the goverment has so far declined to act. The latest disaster might finally change that.

"Days ago, in an unannounced move, the EPA suspended negotiations with the petroleum giant over whether it would be barred from federal contracts because of the environmental crimes it committed before the spill in the Gulf of Mexico," Lustgarten reports.

Those crimes, which Lustgarten has written about extensively, include:

--a massive explosion in Texas in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 170, in which the company pleaded guilty to felony charges and was fined more than $50 million.

--a leak in Prudhoe Bay that caused 4,800 barrels of oil to leak in Alaska due to what Congress found was company negligence, deliberately ignoring warnings to check the pipeline, and cost-cutting that led to safety violations.

--a case settled with the Justice Department for manipulating propane prices.

The cost-cutting measures and other wrongdoing appear to have boosted profits for BP, and made it the most profitable oil company in the world. They also may have led to the world's greatest environmental disaster.

As the government waits to see if BP's current desperate attempt to "kill" the Deepwater well succeeds in stemming the tide of spilled oil, it should take aggressive action against the company, depriving it of the partnership status that allowed it to run its unsafe Deepwater platform in the first place.

Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive magazine.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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