One of the American political establishment’s most enthusiastic supporters of dangerous offshore drilling appears to have suffered either a dramatic change of heart or a severe bout with amnesia.
Sarah Palin, the one time vice presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska who quit after less than half her elected term to promote a book and host a show on Fox News, coined the 2008 campaign slogan “Drill baby, drill” that’s still heard at conservative rallies nation-wide. Palin’s politics run so hand-in-hand with big oil interests, she’s actually increased her advocacy of drilling in the wake of the Gulf oil gusher, expected to become the worst ecological disaster in America’s history.
Yet, no waiving flag can fight the way the wind blows.
With the PR disaster surrounding British Petroleum reaching near cataclysmic proportions, Palin must have sensed it politically opportune to attack that which has so bolstered her own career, which is exactly what she did during a Sunday television appearance.
Speaking during a Fox News segment, Palin suggested campaign contributions may explain why Obama was “taking so doggone long to get in there, to dive in there and grasp the complexity and the potential tragedy that we are seeing here in the Gulf of Mexico.”
“I don’t know why the question isn’t asked by the mainstream media and by others if there’s any connection with the contributions made to president Obama and his administration and the support by the oil companies to the administration,” she added.
“We were there immediately,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs clarified, speaking to reporters the same day.
Additionally, the question of Obama’s friendliness with BP was asked repeatedly after the company’s political action efforts made $77,051 in donations to Obama’s presidential campaign.
The energy and natural resource sector wasn’t even among Obama’s top 20 contributors by industry for his 2008 presidential run. If anything, Obama appears to have favored nuclear power: his home state of Illinois is among the country’s largest users of nuclear energy, and two of his top advisers used to work for the nuclear energy giant Exelon.
Within days of BP’s announcement that its well had ruptured and began spewing oil into the Gulf, President Obama declared, “BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill.”
BP has since agreed to pay above and beyond the law’s $75 million liability cap for oil spills.
Just over one week after the gusher began, as public and private officials were only beginning to realize it’s scope, President Obama called it “a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.”
“The oil that is still leaking from the well could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our Gulf states,” he said. “And it could extend for a long time. It could jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of Americans who call this place home.”
Obama has since pledged an all-out effort to stop the gusher, which already has spewed over 3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf according to independent scientific analysis of video from the sea floor. In doing so, the president dispatched a team of America’s top scientists to assist BP with plugging the well.
As BP has failed repeatedly to cut off the gusher, the Obama administration has grown very impatient in recent days, warning the oil company that it will soon be brushed aside by the government. Some Democrats have even rumbled about a potential government takeover of BP, or the U.S. simply prohibiting them from doing business here.
The president has also targeted oil and gas tax cuts for elimination and proposed raising taxes on windfall oil company profits often in the tens of billions per fiscal quarter.
Going further, many legal experts expect criminal charges will stem from the disaster. President Obama announced Saturday the formation of a presidential commission to investigate the gusher’s causes, hinting that charges could stem from the probe.
However, he has not said further offshore drilling will be prohibited, in spite of a brief moratorium imposed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon sinking. Palin criticized Obama for that too, taking a position that appears diametrically opposed to her statement on Fox News Sunday.
Meanwhile, areas where the government has been at fault and the occasionally cozy relationships BP and other oil companies have with public officials have been big news in the last month, in spite of Palin’s mischaracterization of “the mainstream media.”
The government’s Mineral Management Service (MMS), tasked with managing oil exploration, allowed BP and other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first obtaining required permits. The approvals included greenlighting the well drilled by the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded on April 20, killing 11.
Even after the gusher disaster began, the same agency gave numerous oil companies more than 20 exemptions from environmental impact studies.
The official who led MMS oversight of Gulf underwater drilling safety, Chris Oynes, resigned on May 17 after a photo of him presenting BP with a safety award surfaced in the media.
Obama’s spokesman was quick to defend his boss on Sunday, mocking Palin’s suggestions that Obama was somehow in bed with big oil because of 2008 presidential campaign contributions.
“Sarah Palin was involved in that election, but I don’t think, apparently, was paying a whole lot of attention,” Gibbs told reporters. “I’m almost sure that the oil companies don’t consider the Obama administration a huge ally. We proposed a windfall profits tax when they jacked their oil prices up to charge for gasoline.
“My suggestion to Sarah Palin would be to get slightly more informed as to what’s going on in and around oil drilling in this country.”