The Beacon: jsavitz's blog

What BP Owes Americans

This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

There has been a lot of news lately about whether BP will settle all of the legal claims against it stemming from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago, or whether the company will end up in court. As is typical of most things surrounding the oil spill issue, much of the information that has come out in recent weeks has done little more than muddy the waters.

First of all, despite a settlement announced late last Friday, most of the legal claims against BP have not been settled. The recent $7.8 billion settlement only represents the private injury claims brought by local residents, fishermen, tourism companies, and the like whose businesses and livelihoods were devastated by the oil spill. That's important, but it's not even close to half of the story. The remaining claims -- what BP owes the American people -- could amount to many times that amount.

BP has yet to settle with the Federal Government, which represents "we the people," and it hasn't settled with the affected states. The Feds have already brought one suit seeking civil penalties and natural resource damages from BP, and could bring more in the future. Estimates of the total amount that BP owes us just for those federal claims have varied from $20 to $60 billion.

These numbers might seem large, but the truth is they don't come close to the total amount that BP could -- and should -- be required to pay. Our nation's environmental laws allow the Justice Department to seek damages and penalties against BP that could be as high as $90 billion. But recent discussions in the press of a possible future settlement between BP and the Federal Government have focused on much lower amounts in the $20-25 billion range. Compared to what BP could be asked to pay -- and what we have the right to demand -- that's not a deal the American people should be happy about.

To help add some clarity to these numbers, here are a few of the key components that will be decided either through a trial, or by an agreement between BP and the Justice Department:


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Kill The Drill, Not The Bill

Oil

Oil in Barataria Bay, LA in June. Oceana/Suzannah Evans

Some call the U.S. Senate "the place good ideas go to die." Those of us that live and breathe energy policy have already witnessed the death of the climate bill this year. Now, we are sitting at the bedside of the Senate's oil spill response bill. And in spite of what the President called the worst environmental disaster in US history, the "Spill Bill" is on life support as Congress winds to a close.

In the wake of BP's unparalleled Gulf of Mexico disaster some lawmakers recognized the urgent need to overhaul offshore drilling regulations. In July, the House of Representatives passed a bill to tighten safety requirements and make companies pay for damages. Since then, all eyes have been on the Senate to reciprocate. Yet seven months after the blowout, with just a few weeks left in this Congress, we are still waiting.

There is no shortage of facts about the perils of offshore drilling.


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Obama's Early April Fool's Joke?

Very funny, Mr. President, but tomorrow is April Fool’s, not today. We can’t imagine that you’d go back on your promise to keep the moratorium on offshore drilling.

President Obama announced today that he will open much of the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to offshore drilling. This includes areas that were previously protected and fragile Arctic ecosystems – places where it’s unnecessary and destructive to drill, but it seems that the President must know that.

I say that because I remember the speech Obama gave during the 2008 campaign in Florida. He was attacking Senator McCain’s proposal to expand offshore drilling, and he said, “It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines but no short-term benefits since it would take at least ten years to get any oil… It will take a generation to reach full production…When I’m President I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country.”


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Global Shipping: More CO2 Than Germany

This is the ninth post from our team in Copenhagen. Check out the rest of the posts here. - Emily

Oceana has been working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the global shipping industry for three reasons. One, the industry is a major source of emissions -- over a billion tons of carbon dioxide per year -- which is more than what is released annually by Germany, the sixth ranked country in the world. 

Two, these emissions are completely unregulated: They were not controlled by the Kyoto Protocol and no country regulates them. And to top it off, there are excellent operational changes and technical changes that ships can make that could substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions as much as 75% -- some of which can be done at no cost, or with a very short payback period.   


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The Oceans Get Their Day in Copenhagen

Jackie Savitz speaks on Oceans Day in Copenhagen.

This is Jackie's seventh post from the Copenhagen climate conference. Read the others here. - Emily

One sore point in the Copenhagen process for some us is the lack of focus on our oceans. By raising ocean issues at every opportunity we hope to begin to remedy the historic lack of attention they have recieved. As the second week of the two-week meeting began, Oceana partnered with dozens of like-minded organizations to co-sponor an international "Oceans Day."


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Acidification Panel Redux

Oceana's chief scientist Mike Hirshfield, second from left, talks ocean acidification.

This is Jackie's sixth post from the Copenhagen climate conference. Read the others here. - Emily

Ahhh, Saturday. Sleep late, read the paper over a long cup of coffee, go for a stroll in the park. Any other Saturday perhaps, but not when you're attending the most important environmental meeting there is. Instead, Oceana was hard at work, pulling together some of the top marine scientists anywhere to do what we came here to do -- tell the world about ocean acidification.

By eight o'clock, we had pulled together a star-studded panel including Dr. Vicki Fabry, well known for her research on those elegant little salmon snacks known as pteropods. You know, the ones with the dissolving shells you have seen in so many of our materials? Scripps Institue of Oceanography also put forward Dr. Andrew Dickson, who explained the "simple" chemistry involved, and it was all kicked off by Dr. Tony Haymet, Scripps' Director.

Based on the other side of the pond, but also part of our Copenhagen team, we heard from Dr. Carol Turley, who discussed the biology of acidification - the effects on corals and other marine life. Turley's colleague Kelvin Boot shared a fun animation developed by kids to tell the story about acidification.

And batting cleanup was our own Dr. Mike Hirshfield, Oceana's Chief Scientist and Senior VP for North America. Mike did a great job putting all the science in perspective so that we could talk about the policy changes that are needed to save our oceans.

Mike pointed out that we need to stabilize our atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 350 parts per million in order to prevent the impacts on coral reefs and so many other animals in our oceans. He warned that allowing levels to get above 450 will spell disaster, and that we absolutely should not exceed that level. The solution: shifting to a clean energy economy, with solar and wind replacing oil and coal, as soon as possible. We had an excellent discussion about this with many questions from the audience, and all in all, a very good day's work, if I say so myself. Especially for a Saturday.


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The Winds of Change

Oceana chief scientist Mike Hirshfield and senior campaigner Jackie Savitz at the Middlegrunden wind farm.

This is Jackie's fifth dispatch from Copenhagen. Check out the others here. -Emily

In his speech here in Copenhagen, Secretary of the Interior Salazar said that the United States could generate 20% of its electricity from wind by 2030, and we at Oceana want to see that become reality.

After all, it's part of shifting to a clean energy economy, which is the only way to stop ocean acidification. As I'm writing this from Denmark, this country is already 20 years ahead of those aspirations. Danes already get 20% of their electricity from offhshore wind... and climbing. Forget 20 and 30% goals, it's numbers like 85% that play a prominent role in Denmark's mid-term goal-setting.
 
So it only seemed appropriate for Oceana's team to visit one of these offshore sites while we were in Copenhagen. We went with Energy Futures to the Middlegrunden wind farm. This single array of 20 wind-generating units produces 40 MW of electricity, which may seem small, but as we photographed it, we could see more, larger arrays in the general area. All of those wind installations add up to 20% of power production, and ultimately the beginning of the end of acidification and all of our other climate change woes.
 
The wind turbines didn't make any noise, and they really were kind of photogenic, though it was a cloudy day.  We didn't think they spoiled the view in the least, especially considering what a traditional power plant would have looked like next door (by the way, there was a waste-incinerating power generating plant, right next store and that was ugly. 

I was glad to hear that Secretary Salazar, a supporter of renewable energy, toured the same site the day before. Hopefully that will be one of the ways this summit helps us to turn the climate change ship around.


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Drilling Secretary Salazar

Oceana's Jackie Savitz asks Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar a question in Copenhagen.

This is the fourth in a series of posts from Copenhagen. Check out the rest here. - Emily

Secretary of Interior Salazar spoke here in Copenhagen about the great work that the Department of the Interior is doing to advance carbon reductions. He also promoted things like carbon sequestration and clean coal technology, which are basically really expensive, long-shot strategies for getting carbon out of coal emissions and getting carbon back underground where it belongs. He also noted that we could get 20% of our electricity from wind by 2030, and that the Danes, our hosts, were already doing so!

The Secretary's timing for being here was great -- he had just opened up one of the most productive areas of Alaska to exploratory drilling, a mistake that was not lost on some of the Alaska natives who were there and were very quick to ask him about the Chuckchi decision. (Read more about Oceana's reaction to the decision.)

I was lucky enough to ask the Secretary a question as well, which he deferred to his Deputy, David Hayes. I asked him the following: With all this interest in stopping carbon emissions and sequestering carbon below ground, was he considering as part of the solution just leaving some carbon in the ground by making expanded drilling into previously protected areas, like the west coast of Florida, off limits?  I pointed out that doing so would make resources that would otherwise be used for drilling available to help develop the offshore wind he referred to earlier.


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Oceana Front and Center

Oceana's Jim Ayers speaks at a Copenhagen side event.

Jackie's third dispatch from Copenhagen. Read the others here. -Emily

On the first day of the climate conference in Copenhagen, Oceana was front and center, getting an early start in raising awareness about ocean acidification.

We hosted what's called a "side event," which is an opportunity to learn and discuss an issue of interest. We teamed up with the US State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as our friend Sven Huseby, the star of the hit documentary "A Sea Change" for our event. We had excellent turnout and Oceana speakers, Dr. Jeff Short and Jim Ayers, did an excellent job along with the other speakers. 

We also set up an exhibit that will run the full length of the conference. The exhibit is in partnership with some of the foremost scientific institutions working on oceans: Scripps Institute of Oceanography, where many newbie marine biologists like myself only dreamed of studying, as well as the Plymouth Marine Lab and POGO, the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans. Our exhibit provides one-stop-shopping for ocean acidificatoin information, with our report, Acid Test, available in English as well as Mandarin Chinese!

We also have a globe projection that shows the trends in ocean acidification in the world's oceans. You have to see it to believe it. This exhibit has allowed us to attract considerable press attention and stories have been written in The Ecologist, The Chirstian Science Monitor and others.

We've also been featured on climateone.net with our Washington-based scientist Ellycia Harrould-Kolieb doing an interview broadcast live over the internet.  We hope to keep the momentum going in the days to come.

Help us by taking action and let the chief negotiators of the four largest emitting countries know you want them to stop ocean acidification.


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An Ocean of People

This is Jackie's second post from Copenhagen. Stay tuned for more and read the other dispatches.  - Emily

It's an ocean of people here at the International Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Like schools of fish, we are all swimming upstream and down in hopes of catching our elusive prey, climate negotiators who hold the power to preserve our otherwise quickly degrading habitat to make sure it's here in the future for the small fry. 

The Bella Center, where we are working, is a diverse ecosystem consisting of individuals from nearly every country of the world, rich and poor, those set up high in the mountains and in low-lying island nations. Many of these countries have sent a diversity of interests: business, industry, government, journalists and importantly those of us committed to preserving our environment, who in United Nations-speak go by the name of ENGO's or Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations.  

The Oceana team is here in the name of ocean acidification -- a growing problem for our oceans that threatens massive extinctions of corals and major disruptions of other ocean ecosystems if we don't find a way to stop pumping carbon dioxide into our air.
 
We've teamed up with some of the foremost scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, POGO and the Plymouth Marine Lab to get that message out. We have a library of information and a full time exhibit where delegates to the convention can pick up materials and learn about ocean acidification. We hope that this information will re-energize negotiators and help make sure they devise and commit to a strong agreement that will save our oceans and all the life within them.


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