In this increasingly litigious and unforgiving society, each crisis, every disaster and malfunctions of nearly every stripe trigger furious finger-pointing to assign blame long before investigators gather the facts.
This rush to censure was apparent in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the efforts to fault the Department of Defense for the Abu Ghraib prison debacle and in the late Congressman John Murtha's false accusations against the Marines of atrocities at Haditha, to name a few.
The race to label someone — or anyone — as culpable in the Gulf oil spill is blame-game replay. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration, Time Magazine's Joe Klein, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, Sen. Chris Dodd and a host of drilling engineer experts, currently moonlighting as syndicated columnists, first demonized a familiar target — former President George W. Bush.
Not to be outdone and joined by environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, columnists including Robert Scheer (Truthdig.com), E.J. Dionne (Washington Post) and Paul Krugman (The New York Times) laid the blame on a combination of Big Oil, greed, capitalism, anti-environmentalists and the American driver. And it is less than helpful in the long run when, instead of looking for the "why," the commander in chief announces that he is in search of someone's derriere to kick.
By process of elimination and the fact that it was its oil rig that caused the damage, BP became the object of piling on by nearly everyone. Although slow to determine and admit to the scope of the disaster in barrels of oil spewed daily, to its credit BP has accepted responsibility for the spill, apologized (an unhelpful necessity) and begun paying damage claims while attempting to stem the flow of crude oil. BP has also set up a $20 billion escrow fund for further claims.
In all probability, BP is either partially or totally responsible for this tragedy affecting the lives, livelihood, ecology and wildlife of the Gulf Coast. BP is also honest enough to accept blame. Nevertheless, when reading or listening to the vitriol heaped upon BP by television's talking heads, syndicated and local columnists and members of both houses of Congress, one would believe that BP, with malice aforethought, blew up the oil rig in a deliberate attempt to destroy the Gulf and forfeit the profit potential of billions of barrels of crude.
To be sure, not all the criticism of drilling in general and of BP in particular is unfounded or over the top — many have questioned built-in safety precautions, regulatory procedures and disaster preparedness. The historical data of rig accident research shows the last major U.S. oil spill occurring in 1969 — not a bad safety record. Exploration, whether for new lands, raw materials, medicine, weapons of war, transport, etc. are all hazardous procedures, but must we surrender to adversity rather than invent a new mousetrap?
Although there is little doubt BP will shoulder most of the blame and costs, some of the panning has been petty and of little import. The silliest of the critics have been members of Congress, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times and several columnists who castigated the industry for including walruses in their ecological protection plans. Although the legislators and the media obviously reveled in this "Gotcha!" moment, neglecting to delete non-native species is of absolutely no relevance to the issue of determining the cause of and fixing the problem.
There are others upon whose shoulders a measure of blame must rest, e.g. why are we drilling in deep water? The environmental "green" lobby has managed to prevent development in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and Alaska's northern slope. And, for shallow-water drilling, the Pacific Ocean and its coastline has been off-limits for three decades as have portions of the Atlantic shelf.
In cleaning up the Gulf spill and recovering the oil, there is also a legitimate question. A number of nations have volunteered ships and crews to assist; however, the Jones Act, which requires U.S.-owned ships and U.S. crews to transport all goods between U.S. ports, has barred their participation. President Bush waived the Jones Act within days of Hurricane Katrina; one must wonder why after two months of oil spillage, a similar action has not occurred.
Finally, although the bashing of BP and the petroleum industry out of frustration for the economic and ecological disaster is understood, there is reality to face. Although I don't doubt the sincerity of those seeking alternate fuels and creation of green jobs, the notion that we can turn our backs on the fossil fuels providing 85 percent of our energy in the foreseeable future is foolish. The world economy is petroleum-based because of its availability, relatively cheap costs and efficiency.
You may demonize oil and coal as you wish; however, I doubt we will see solar-powered aircraft, a return to sailing ships, or waste-powered weaponry. Those serious about creating a cleaner environment should work to remove bans on creating more nuclear energy.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.