Experts Warn: US ‘on Course to Repeat’ BP Gulf Disaster

“The risk of another blowout is real,” write former MMS head Elizabether Birnbaum, Oceana’s Jacqueline Savitz

– Andrea Germanos, staff writer

BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig ablaze on April 21, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. is “on a course to repeat our mistakes” and face another oil disaster like BP’s Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, two experts warn.

The chilling cautionary words are given by former offshore drilling regulator Elizabeth Birnbaum and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at conservation organizationOceana, in op-ed published in the New York Times days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the epic oil catastrophe.

Birnbaum was head of Minerals Management Service at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but in a move seen by some as “scapegoat firing” was ousted from the position weeks after the well began to spew oil into the Gulf. She is now a consultant at SEB Strategies.

Birnbaum and Savitz write that the Obama administration has yet to act on recommendations which could make offshore drilling safer.

“We would never have imagined so little action would be taken to prevent something like this from happening again. But, four years later, the Obama administration still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes,” they write.

One the remaining threats Birnbaum and Savitz highlight has to do with blowout preventers, a point outlined in a “detailed and damning” December 2011 report of the National Academy of Engineering. The report found fault with the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer, and indicated that that same equipment “may be present” at other drilling operations. Yet new standards for blowout preventers have yet to be enforced, deepwater drilling continues, and new drilling leases in the Gulf are issued each year.

“The risk of another blowout is real,” they write.

Rather than scale back drilling, oceans face another assault with the administration’s proposal to allow the use of seismic air guns for oil exploration along the Atlantic coast, which Oceana has warned could amount to “death sentence” for marine mammals.

“We have seen this pattern before. The expansion of drilling into deeper water and farther from shore was not coupled with advances in spill prevention and response,” Birnbaum and Savitz write in their op-ed.

This captures the ‘risk addiction’ award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein described in her TED talk delivered months after the Macondo well blowout. Klein said that “even more striking than the ferocious power emanating from that well was the recklessness with which that power was unleashed — the carelessness, the lack of planning that characterized the operation from drilling to clean-up.”

“If there is one thing BP’s watery improv act made clear, it is that, as a culture, we have become far too willing to gamble with things that are precious and irreplaceable, and to do so without a back-up plan, without an exit strategy,” Klein continued.

That reckless gamble is all too real for the wildlife in the Gulf still suffering and community members still awaiting compensation for the catastrophe that is far from over.

“The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010,” stated Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And, ensure that this never happens again.”

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FACT SHEET: New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced two new common-sense executive actions to keep the most dangerous firearms out of the wrong hands and ban almost all re-imports of military surplus firearms to private entities. These executive actions build on the 23 executive actions that the Vice President recommended as part of the comprehensive gun violence reduction plan and the President unveiled on January 16, 2013.

Even as Congress fails to act on common-sense proposals, like expanding criminal background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, the President and Vice President remain committed to using all the tools in their power to make progress toward reducing gun violence.

Building on the 23 Executive Actions the President and Vice President Unveiled Last January

  • Last December, the President asked the Vice President to develop a series of recommendations to reduce gun violence. On January 16, 2013, they released these proposals, including 23 executive actions. With the first Senate confirmation of an ATF Director on July 31, 2013, the Administration has completed or made significant progress on 22 of the 23 executive actions. The new executive actions unveiled today build on this successful effort.

Closing a Loophole to Keep Some of the Most Dangerous Guns Out of the Wrong Hands

  • Current law places special restrictions on many of the most dangerous weapons, such as machine guns and short-barreled shotguns.  These weapons must be registered, and in order to lawfully possess them, a prospective buyer must undergo a fingerprint-based background check.
  •  However, felons, domestic abusers, and others prohibited from having guns can easily evade the required background check and gain access to machine guns or other particularly dangerous weapons by registering the weapon to a trust or corporation.  At present, when the weapon is registered to a trust or corporation, no background check is run.  ATF reports that last year alone, it received more than 39,000 requests for transfers of these restricted firearms to trusts or corporations.
  • Today, ATF is issuing a new proposed regulation to close this loophole.  The proposed rule requires individuals associated with trusts or corporations that acquire these types of weapons to undergo background checks, just as these individuals would if the weapons were registered to them individually.  By closing this loophole, the regulation will ensure that machine guns and other particularly dangerous weapons do not end up in the wrong hands.

Keeping Surplus Military Weapons Off Our Streets

  • When the United States provides military firearms to its allies, either as direct commercial sales or through the foreign military sales or military assistance programs, those firearms may not be imported back into the United States without U.S. government approval.  Since 2005, the U.S. Government has authorized requests to reimport more than 250,000 of these firearms.
  • Today, the Administration is announcing a new policy of denying requests to bring military-grade firearms back into the United States to private entities, with only a few exceptions such as for museums.  This new policy will help keep military-grade firearms off our streets.

Presidential Distortion

The message we’ve been hearing from the mainstream media about Obama’s push for a renewed brand of liberalism is flagrantly false.

— by Peter Hart

Peter Hart

Here’s a thought: Maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama isn’t a socialist.

I know, if you’ve tuned into even a little bit of right-wing talk radio, or watched some Fox News shows over the past four years, this might come as a surprise.

Obama, in the imagination of so many of his right-wing opponents, is a debt-loving, big-spending, Wall Street-bashing enemy of the free market. A popular far-right documentary spun out a theory that Obama’s second term would finally reveal his plan to undermine American power. It treated this plot as a tragedy, but it’s actually a comedy.

After all, what’s the reality of Obama’s political agenda? The far right believes it’s socialism, sure. But the message we’ve been hearing from the mainstream media — that Obama is pushing a renewed brand of liberalism — is flagrantly false in many ways.

imageRight after his second inaugural address, conservatives fumed that we were seeing the “real” Obama — a radical left-wing ideologue. The message from the “objective” media was not as strident, of course, but sounded similar notes. “Obama Offers Liberal Vision,” said The New York Times. He declared an “ambitious liberal agenda,” said CBS. After Obama’s State of the Union address, one veteran CNN pundit called it an “audacious speech,” one that saw Obama touting “old-fashioned liberalism” and big government.

But let’s consider reality for a moment. The highest-profile clash raging in Washington is over Obama’s selection of a Republican senator as his Pentagon chief. He’s nominated a Treasury secretary who was making big bucks on Wall Street at the height of the financial meltdown. His nominee to head up the Securities & Exchange Commission spent the past decade as a lawyer defending the banks she’ll now be keeping an eye on.

If Obama is intent on carrying out his secret socialist agenda — or even a muscular liberal one — he has a funny way of showing it.

But what about all that big government spending? If you listen to the White House, they’re often proudest of the spending cuts they’ve embraced. Yes, government spending spiked due to the economic catastrophe that began in 2008, but since then it’s been falling, as a share of the economy and relative to the size of the population. Federal government spending is rising at the slowest pace since the Eisenhower administration.

To many of Obama’s critics on the left, the government should be spending more to help boost employment because cutting government spending just makes things worse. (This is precisely what is happening across Europe.)

What’s Obama’s bold liberal vision we hear about in the papers? It’s not as daring as the papers and the pundits would have you think. There’s a middle-of-the-road proposal on immigration. His rhetoric on climate change is overshadowed by the way he cheers for natural gas fracking. Yes, Obama is proposing a modest increase in the minimum wage to $9 per hour. But that’s actually 50 cents lower than the proposal he made 5 years ago.

So why all the media misperceptions? One explanation is that ultra-conservatives have whipped their powerful media machine into a frenzy over Obama’s supposed radicalism. That message spills over into the larger media discussion, where “Obama is some kind of socialist” gets to be one side of a falsely “balanced” two-sided debate.

Another explanation: A truly progressive agenda to address the problems America faces right now — such as taxing Wall Street speculation, embracing a serious climate policy, and supporting vigorous jobs programs — would threaten the upper-crust interests that corporate media and the political system serve to protect.

Casting Obama’s mostly middle-of-the-road vision as unusually progressive helps to narrow the political debate. It’s keeping many truly progressive ideas off the table.


Peter Hart is the activism director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. www.fair.org
Distributed via OtherWords. (OtherWords.org)

Everything You Need To Know About The Administration’s New Birth Control Rules

— By Igor Volsky on Feb 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm

The Obama administration has released new regulations that help clarify which religious groups and organizations can opt out of providing birth control, as required under the Affordable Care Act, exempting most religiously affiliated groups from the requirement while ensuring that women will continue to receive birth control at no cost.

The law specifies that employers and insurers must provide a wide array of women’s health benefits, including contraception without additional co-pays. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement. Nonprofit religiously affiliated organizations can also refuse to offer birth control coverage, though their employees may obtain contraception coverage that is part of their insurance plans directly from the insurer without additional cost to them or the companies.

The new rules make small changes to this agreement.

First, the federal government will apply the Internal Revenue Services’ definition for religious organization, which is slightly broader than how the term had been defined. Here is a comparison:

NEW DEFINITION OLD DEFINITION
holds itself out as a religious organization the inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization.
is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity the organization is a nonprofit organization
opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services required on account of religious objections the organization employs and serves primarily persons who share its religious tenets
self-certifies that it meets these criteria and specifies the contraceptive services for which it objects to providing coverage not included in definition

This change also clarifies that “a house of worship would not be excluded from the exemption because, for example, it provides charitable social services to persons of different religious faiths or employs persons of different religious faiths.” Significantly, the rule draws a line at non-profit organizations and would not permit for-profit entities (companies like Hobby Lobby, for instance) to take advantage of the religious exemption.

Women who work for the exempt organizations will still have access to birth control through their insurance companies at no additional cost. But whereas before these insurers added birth control to their existing policies, the new regulations state the insurers (or third-party entities, if the employer is self-insured) will provide separate, individual birth control coverage. The objecting employer will not “have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.” Under these terms, women may have separate policies — one for general health care and another for birth control.

Ultimately, the rule is not expected to significantly change existing policy or “expand the universe of employer plans that would qualify for the exemption beyond that which was intended in the 2012 final rules. However, it could help dispel the more than 40 lawsuits that have been filed by employers arguing that the religious exclusion was too narrow and simply an accounting gimmick.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Obamacare Moves Forward to Implement Pre-Existing Condition Discrimination Ban

The Obama administration moved forward today to implement provisions in the health care law that would make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. The provisions of the Affordable Care Act also would make it easier for consumers to compare health plans and employers to promote and encourage employee wellness.

“The Affordable Care Act is building a health insurance market that works for consumers,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Thanks to the health care law, no one will be discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition.”

“The Affordable Care Act recognizes that well-run, equitable workplace wellness programs allow workers to access services that can help them and their families lead healthier lives,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.  “Employers, too, can benefit from reduced costs associated with a healthier workforce.”

The Obama administration issued:

  • A proposed rule that, beginning in 2014, prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals because of a pre-existing or chronic condition.  Under the rule, insurance companies would be allowed to vary premiums within limits, only based on age, tobacco use, family size, and geography.  Health insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage to any American because of a pre-existing condition or from charging higher premiums to certain enrollees because of their current or past health problems, gender, occupation, and small employer size or industry. The rule would ensure that people for whom coverage would otherwise be unaffordable, and young adults, have access to a catastrophic coverage plan in the individual market.  For more information regarding this rule, visit: http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2012/11/market-reforms11202012a.html.
  • A proposed rule outlining policies and standards for coverage of essential health benefits, while giving states more flexibility to implement the Affordable Care Act. Essential health benefits are a core set of benefits that would give consumers a consistent way to compare health plans in the individual and small group markets. A companion letter on the flexibility in implementing the essential health benefits in Medicaid was also sent to states.  For more information regarding this rule, visit http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2012/11/ehb11202012a.html.
  • A proposed rule implementing and expanding employment-based wellness programs to promote health and help control health care spending, while ensuring that individuals are protected from unfair underwriting practices that could otherwise reduce benefits based on health status.  For more information regarding this rule, visit:http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2012/11/wellness11202012a.html

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