Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Oil Spill Commission

President Obama has appointed a seven member commission to investigate the Gulf oil spill.

The Obama-appointed commission is lousy with environmental activists and policy wonks yet woefully short on such experts as petroleum engineers and others with real world experience.

From an article in the Houston Chronicle:

The commission has yet to meet, yet some panel members had made their views known.

Environmental activist Frances Beinecke on May 27 blogged: "We can blame BP for the disaster and we should. We can blame lack of adequate government oversight for the disaster and we should. But in the end, we also must place the blame where it originated: America's addiction to oil." And on June 3, May 27, May 22, May 18, May 4, she called for bans on drilling offshore and the Arctic.

Gee, who didn't see that coming?

When the White House announced the commission, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and others made compared it with the one that investigated the 1986 Challenger accident. This one, however, doesn't have as many technical experts.

The 13-member board that looked into the first shuttle accident had seven engineering and aviation experts and three other scientists. The 2003 board that looked into the Columbia shuttle disaster also had more than half of the panel with expertise in engineering and aviation.

Iraj Ersahaghi, who heads the petroleum engineering program the University of Southern California, reviewed the names of oil spill commissioners and asked, "What do they know about petroleum?"

It's almost like the Secretary of Energy is a Nobel prize winning physicist. Physicist. Oh wait. That is exactly who Obama put in charge of energy policy. Before he turned it over to the Interior Department, that is. Does Secretary Salazar have a boot on the throat of Secretary Chu, too? Salazar is the one who put into effect the six month moratorium of deep water drilling by using fake recommendations from industry experts. The very experts who specifically called for no moratorium, so Salazar inserted two paragraphs into their findings after they signed off on the report.

The Wall Street Journal leads with this Obama quote from April 2009: "Under my Administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over. . . To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy. . . I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions, and not the other way around." We all remember the public slap to the Bush administration - the continuation of slaps to the Bush administration - from the new guy in charge. Democrats enjoy feeling superior to others when it comes to intellectual matters. There is no proof of superiority of one party's intellectual heft over another party, but never mind. This administration is the most ideologically strident of any - in many instances more strident - yet they still want to put up the facade of an upper hand on fact gathering. The report from the experts proves otherwise.

The administrator of NOAA is another Obama appointee who enjoys smirking about scientific fact finding superiority. She, too, enjoys reminding those within earshot that the Obama administration is committed to science over ideology. So far, not so good in the results department.

The rest of the commission as reported in The Wall Street Journal: loaded up on politicians and environmental activists.

One co-chair is former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, who fought drilling off Florida throughout his career. The other is William Reilly, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush but is best known as a former president and former chairman of the World Wildlife Fund, one of the big environmental lobbies. The others:

• Donald Boesch, a University of Maryland "biological oceanographer," who has opposed drilling off the Virginia coast and who argued that "the impacts of the oil and gas extraction industry . . . on Gulf Coast wetlands represent an environmental catastrophe of massive and underappreciated proportions."

• Terry Garcia, an executive vice president at the National Geographic Society, who directed coastal programs in the Clinton Administration, in particular "recovery of endangered species, habitat conservation planning," and "Clean Water Act implementation," according to the White House press release.

• Fran Ulmer, Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, who is a member of the Aspen Institute's Commission on Arctic Climate Change. She's also on the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which opposes nuclear power and more offshore drilling and wants government policies "that reduce vehicle miles traveled" (i.e., driving in cars).

• Rounding out the panel is its lone member with an engineering background, Harvard's Cherry A. Murray, though her specialties are physics and optics.

This is not an exercise in confidence building for anyone with the slightest knowledge of the oil drilling industry. It is, however, a perfect commission for Team Obama. These folks have never been in the real world and have no clue on practical problem solving in the field - they are consumed with college seminars and think tank weekends.

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