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Will the BP Oil Spill Be the Spark?

"The fact that 11 human beings were killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion (their bodies never found) has become, at best, an afterthought. BP counts its profits in the billions, and, therefore, it's important. . . This is the bitter reality of the American present, a period in which big business has cemented an unholy alliance with big government against the interests of ordinary Americans who, of course, are the great majority of Americans. The great majority of Americans no longer matter." -Bob Herbert, "More Than Just An Oil Spill," NY Times, May 22, 2010

Just about a week ago I was on a conference call with leaders of about a dozen national and regional groups which have made the climate crisis a top priority of their work. The two main things we talked about were the prospects for decent climate legislation in the Senate and how we should be responding to the catastrophic BP oil spill.

Most of us were not very hopeful about the prospects in the Senate, absent the kind of leadership on this issue Barack Obama gave to achieve passage of a not-so-good health care reform bill. Indeed, there is legitimate reason to be concerned that if he did so, he could advance a bill strongly supportive of nukes, coal and offshore drilling, based on things he has said and done as President, and based on the Kerry-Lieberman "American Power Act" released on May 12th.

As far as the BP spill, there was discussion on this call about the idea of local actions around the country on the one-month anniversary of the spill, May 20th. One important national organization, the Energy Action Coalition, took the initiative and organized 45 local actions around the country beginning on that day, to their credit.

Could the BP spill be the spark that generates an on-going, in-the-streets movement for a rapid shift away from dirty fossil fuels to a justice-based, green jobs, clean energy economy? It sure seems to have a number of the elements that make that a possibility.

First, it's a clear-cut case of right and wrong. BP was criminally negligent as far as its back-up plans in case something went wrong at its Deep Horizon oil well a mile down below the ocean surface.

Second, and very unfortunately, it's a protracted crisis that, one way or another, will likely go on for many more months, including the investigations into what really happened and who within BP and the federal government-particularly the Minerals Management Service-were responsible.

Third, it's a daily story in the mainstream news media. Its seriousness makes it impossible to be swept under the rug. Indeed, there are indications that it is motivating the kind of investigative journalism that should be the mass media norm rather than the exception. An example is an Associated Press story written May 21st by Matthew Daly. The headline is, "A month after spill, anger rises over BP response." It reports on the anger and frustration among people in the gulf and analyzes the interactions between BP and the feds, making the point that they are "lashed in" together on this one.

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