Lists

The Most Absurd Arguments About the Oil Spill

The gulf disaster has opened up a gushing plume of nonsensical rhetoric.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images; Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photography/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images; Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photography/Getty Images)

ON LAND, BABY, ON LAND

Who said it: Sarah Palin

Money quote: “Extreme Greenies:see now why we push’drill,baby,drill’of known reserves&promising finds in safe onshore places like ANWR? Now do you get it?”

The argument: Whenever there’s an opportunity to attack Barack Obama’s administration, Sarah Palin is eager to push the message. The former Alaska governor’s always-amusing Twitter feed has been filled up recently with suggestions and accusations about the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Unsurprisingly, she has consistently reiterated her old “drill, baby, drill” talking points.

But in the wake of the Gulf fiasco, Palin has conveniently forgotten her constant advocacy for offshore drilling and instead focused on the need to drill on land. Palin also put it directly to President Obama, tweeting (punctuation original): “‘I never say drill,baby,drill’ Ahh, that’s much of the problem,Mr.President;Drill ANWR&unlock land for safe onshore devlpmnt/energy security.”

Palin published a Facebook note on Wednesday expounding on her argument, writing “Radical environmentalists: you are damaging the planet with your efforts to lock up safer drilling areas. There’s nothing clean and green about your misguided, nonsensical radicalism, and Americans are on to you as we question your true motives.”

Opponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge say it would not only ruin what has been called “America’s Serengeti” — home to numerous animal species, including polar and grizzly bears, a large number of caribou, and many different birds and fish — but would provide little relief for the American public. A 2004 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration said that drilling in ANWR would lower gas prices a meager 3.5 cents a gallon by 2027.

THE OCEAN CAN HANDLE IT

Who said it: Rush Limbaugh, Brit Hume

Money quote: “More oil [is] spilled every year in Africa, in Nigeria, than so far in the Gulf.  So it’s not unique; it is not exceptional; it’s not the largest. Mexico had a spill that’s larger than this. Nobody talks about it except, apparently, me.”- Rush Limbaugh

The argument: BP CEO Tony Hayward certainly didn’t do his company any favors on May 14 by saying the oil spill was “tiny” compared with the volume of water in the Gulf of Mexico, a claim the oil giant has since walked back from. But conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Brit Hume, among others, have topped even Hayward’s argument, by forcefully arguing that the oil spill really isn’t a big deal.

They’ve reasoned that because the gulf annually absorbs an amount of oil equivalent to twice the Exxon Valdez spill, the current crisis is overblown. Of course, the two failed to mention that because the seepage is a small, consistent trickle, it is possible for the water to dramatically spread out the oil on the surface, negating any harmful effects. There’s an enormous difference between the gradual, natural process that has proved to not affect wildlife or the ecosystem, and the massive, concentrated gushing from the destroyed BP well that has already killed hundreds of birds in the Gulf coast states, endangered vulnerable turtles, and caused untold dollars in economic damage — though the exact figure will not be known for some time. The spill is currently pumping up to 19,000 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Department of the Interior. Natural isn’t really the word that comes to mind.

OBAMA PLANNED IT

Who said it: Michael Brown, Rush Limbaugh

Money Quote: “They played politics with this crisis. … This is exactly what they want, because now [Obama] can pander to the environmentalists and say, ‘I’m going to shut it down because it’s too dangerous.'”- Michael Brown

The argument: Obama’s decision this year to initiate an offshore drilling program surprised many of his supporters, given that he had offered only lukewarm support for the idea during the 2008 presidential campaign. In response to the current crisis, Obama has shelved those plans. But former director for the Feceral Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, of “Heckuva job, Brownie“fame, has detected a more sinister reason behind Obama’s about-face. Brown has argued that not only is Obama more than happy to call off his offshore drilling program, but that his response has been deliberately slow; the president wants to make the leak worse so that he’ll be forced to cancel his offshore drilling plans (which Brown claimed he didn’t actually want to go through with in the first place).

Limbaugh took the argument even further, insinuating that perhaps the Obama administration itself blew up the rig, saying on his show, “We had this call from a guy out there who said nobody’s talking about whether this was an act of sabotage because I guess they can’t prove it, but they’re going to send SWAT teams down there? He was going to send a SWAT team to the rig that blew up or are you going to send a SWAT team to other rigs? What’s going on here? Remember, this rig blew April 21st, which is one day prior to ‘Erf’ Day.” Making the sabotage claim even more ridiculous, Obama has hardly benefited from the crisis, with his response widely criticized in the media as being too slow and inefficient.

CAPITALISM DID IT

Who said it: Fidel Castro

Money quote: “[The oil spill] shows how little governments can do against those who control the capital”

The argument: The former Cuban president — in his new guise as his country’s blogger in chief — has pointed to BP’s failure as a prime example of the horrors of the free market. In a state media editorial last Saturday, Castro wrote that the oil spill “shows how little governments can do against those who control the capital, who in both the United States and Europe are, due to the economy of our globalized planet, those who decide the destiny of the public.”

Of course, Castro neglected to mention that Cuba has its own nascent offshore drilling program, with investment from Chinese, Canadian, Indian, Spanish, Malaysian, and Norwegian oil companies. Cuba erected its first independent shallow-water rig north of the island nation last year. Castro is probably hoping that his experiment goes better than that of his buddy Hugo Chávez. A Venezuelan offshore rig sank in the Caribbean on May 13.

Castro’s bluster aside, the oil spill has actually been an opportunity for the United States and Cuba to work together for once. The two countries have held “working-level” talks on handling the spill.

CAP THE SPILL MEANS CAP AND TRADE

Who said it: Barack Obama

Money quote: “The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.”

The argument: While the claims that Obama sabotaged or deliberately dragged his feet in responding to the disaster may be laughable, there is no doubt that the administration and its Democratic allies see the spill as an opportunity to push stalled climate-change legislation through Congress. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a cap-and-trade bill last year, but the legislation has since stalled in the Senate. With attention focused on the Gulf, Democrats have decided to make another push. Obama yesterday acknowledged the lack of progress in Congress, but vowed success in the near future: “The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has said that the “Gulf of Mexico oil spill has underscored the stakes” in the congressional fight.

While few oppose a “clean-energy future,” the truth is that offshore drilling plays a relatively small role in causing climate change. Oil, while a contributor to U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, comes nowhere near the impact of coal, which causes about 80 percent of all U.S. fossil-fuel emissions. A 2009 Environment America report shows that power plants spewed 2.56 billion tons of climate pollution in 2007, roughly the impact of 450 million cars. But in 2007, there were only 150 million passenger cars registered in the United States What’s more, Obama originally proposed allowing limited offshore drilling as a sweetener to smooth passage of the climate bill. He can’t have it both ways.

ON LAND, BABY, ON LAND

Who said it: Sarah Palin

Money quote: “Extreme Greenies:see now why we push’drill,baby,drill’of known reserves&promising finds in safe onshore places like ANWR? Now do you get it?”

The argument: Whenever there’s an opportunity to attack Barack Obama’s administration, Sarah Palin is eager to push the message. The former Alaska governor’s always-amusing Twitter feed has been filled up recently with suggestions and accusations about the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Unsurprisingly, she has consistently reiterated her old “drill, baby, drill” talking points.

But in the wake of the Gulf fiasco, Palin has conveniently forgotten her constant advocacy for offshore drilling and instead focused on the need to drill on land. Palin also put it directly to President Obama, tweeting (punctuation original): “‘I never say drill,baby,drill’ Ahh, that’s much of the problem,Mr.President;Drill ANWR&unlock land for safe onshore devlpmnt/energy security.”

Palin published a Facebook note on Wednesday expounding on her argument, writing “Radical environmentalists: you are damaging the planet with your efforts to lock up safer drilling areas. There’s nothing clean and green about your misguided, nonsensical radicalism, and Americans are on to you as we question your true motives.”

Opponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge say it would not only ruin what has been called “America’s Serengeti” — home to numerous animal species, including polar and grizzly bears, a large number of caribou, and many different birds and fish — but would provide little relief for the American public. A 2004 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration said that drilling in ANWR would lower gas prices a meager 3.5 cents a gallon by 2027.

THE OCEAN CAN HANDLE IT

Who said it: Rush Limbaugh, Brit Hume

Money quote: “More oil [is] spilled every year in Africa, in Nigeria, than so far in the Gulf.  So it’s not unique; it is not exceptional; it’s not the largest. Mexico had a spill that’s larger than this. Nobody talks about it except, apparently, me.”- Rush Limbaugh

The argument: BP CEO Tony Hayward certainly didn’t do his company any favors on May 14 by saying the oil spill was “tiny” compared with the volume of water in the Gulf of Mexico, a claim the oil giant has since walked back from. But conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Brit Hume, among others, have topped even Hayward’s argument, by forcefully arguing that the oil spill really isn’t a big deal.

They’ve reasoned that because the gulf annually absorbs an amount of oil equivalent to twice the Exxon Valdez spill, the current crisis is overblown. Of course, the two failed to mention that because the seepage is a small, consistent trickle, it is possible for the water to dramatically spread out the oil on the surface, negating any harmful effects. There’s an enormous difference between the gradual, natural process that has proved to not affect wildlife or the ecosystem, and the massive, concentrated gushing from the destroyed BP well that has already killed hundreds of birds in the Gulf coast states, endangered vulnerable turtles, and caused untold dollars in economic damage — though the exact figure will not be known for some time. The spill is currently pumping up to 19,000 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Department of the Interior. Natural isn’t really the word that comes to mind.

OBAMA PLANNED IT

Who said it: Michael Brown, Rush Limbaugh

Money Quote: “They played politics with this crisis. … This is exactly what they want, because now [Obama] can pander to the environmentalists and say, ‘I’m going to shut it down because it’s too dangerous.'”- Michael Brown

The argument: Obama’s decision this year to initiate an offshore drilling program surprised many of his supporters, given that he had offered only lukewarm support for the idea during the 2008 presidential campaign. In response to the current crisis, Obama has shelved those plans. But former director for the Feceral Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, of “Heckuva job, Brownie“fame, has detected a more sinister reason behind Obama’s about-face. Brown has argued that not only is Obama more than happy to call off his offshore drilling program, but that his response has been deliberately slow; the president wants to make the leak worse so that he’ll be forced to cancel his offshore drilling plans (which Brown claimed he didn’t actually want to go through with in the first place).

Limbaugh took the argument even further, insinuating that perhaps the Obama administration itself blew up the rig, saying on his show, “We had this call from a guy out there who said nobody’s talking about whether this was an act of sabotage because I guess they can’t prove it, but they’re going to send SWAT teams down there? He was going to send a SWAT team to the rig that blew up or are you going to send a SWAT team to other rigs? What’s going on here? Remember, this rig blew April 21st, which is one day prior to ‘Erf’ Day.” Making the sabotage claim even more ridiculous, Obama has hardly benefited from the crisis, with his response widely criticized in the media as being too slow and inefficient.

CAPITALISM DID IT

Who said it: Fidel Castro

Money quote: “[The oil spill] shows how little governments can do against those who control the capital”

The argument: The former Cuban president — in his new guise as his country’s blogger in chief — has pointed to BP’s failure as a prime example of the horrors of the free market. In a state media editorial last Saturday, Castro wrote that the oil spill “shows how little governments can do against those who control the capital, who in both the United States and Europe are, due to the economy of our globalized planet, those who decide the destiny of the public.”

Of course, Castro neglected to mention that Cuba has its own nascent offshore drilling program, with investment from Chinese, Canadian, Indian, Spanish, Malaysian, and Norwegian oil companies. Cuba erected its first independent shallow-water rig north of the island nation last year. Castro is probably hoping that his experiment goes better than that of his buddy Hugo Chávez. A Venezuelan offshore rig sank in the Caribbean on May 13.

Castro’s bluster aside, the oil spill has actually been an opportunity for the United States and Cuba to work together for once. The two countries have held “working-level” talks on handling the spill.

CAP THE SPILL MEANS CAP AND TRADE

Who said it: Barack Obama

Money quote: “The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.”

The argument: While the claims that Obama sabotaged or deliberately dragged his feet in responding to the disaster may be laughable, there is no doubt that the administration and its Democratic allies see the spill as an opportunity to push stalled climate-change legislation through Congress. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a cap-and-trade bill last year, but the legislation has since stalled in the Senate. With attention focused on the Gulf, Democrats have decided to make another push. Obama yesterday acknowledged the lack of progress in Congress, but vowed success in the near future: “The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has said that the “Gulf of Mexico oil spill has underscored the stakes” in the congressional fight.

While few oppose a “clean-energy future,” the truth is that offshore drilling plays a relatively small role in causing climate change. Oil, while a contributor to U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, comes nowhere near the impact of coal, which causes about 80 percent of all U.S. fossil-fuel emissions. A 2009 Environment America report shows that power plants spewed 2.56 billion tons of climate pollution in 2007, roughly the impact of 450 million cars. But in 2007, there were only 150 million passenger cars registered in the United States What’s more, Obama originally proposed allowing limited offshore drilling as a sweetener to smooth passage of the climate bill. He can’t have it both ways.

Andrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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