Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More of the same

As I mentioned, I spent the better part of yesterday evening coaching baseball so I missed the address that President Obama gave last night. I've now had a chance to read the address -- the transcript is here. So what to make of it?

My first impression is that it was pretty perfunctory. There was nothing new in the speech. We heard that BP is gonna pay and all that weeks ago. They would have, anyway -- there are squadrons of tort lawyers who will see to that.

Some passages of the address were, frankly, ignorant. Consider this one:

So I'm happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party -– as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels. Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power. Others wonder why the energy industry only spends a fraction of what the high-tech industry does on research and development -– and want to rapidly boost our investments in such research and development.

The "addiction to fossil fuels" trope is really tiresome. There's an excellent reason why we use so many fossil fuels; they are a highly efficient way to power automobiles, provide electricity and create items that make our lives easier. Wind and solar power have applications in some areas but there's always going to be a limit to places where you can use them. The most sophisticated amorphous solar panels will not deliver much energy in the Pacific Northwest and wind power doesn't work well in the southern part of the United States. President Obama knows these things, or he should -- there are myriad scientists in his employ who can tell him. And what sorts of research and development does the president want from the oil companies?

Meanwhile, consider these two paragraphs in sequence:

That obviously was not the case in the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I want to know why. The American people deserve to know why. The families I met with last week who lost their loved ones in the explosion -- these families deserve to know why. And so I've established a National Commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place. Already, I've issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. I know this creates difficulty for the people who work on these rigs, but for the sake of their safety, and for the sake of the entire region, we need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue. And while I urge the Commission to complete its work as quickly as possible, I expect them to do that work thoroughly and impartially.

Commissions -- that'll solve the problem! I hope it's a blue ribbon commission. Those are the best ones. But who will staff the commission? Hope he doesn't use these guys:

One place we've already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits, known as the Minerals Management Service. Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility -- a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.

As usual, you couldn't have an Obama address without a handy straw man -- all regulations are viewed with hostility. Who says that, really? The more uncomfortable truth about MMS and many federal agencies is this: when the task is regulating a highly technical and sophisticated industry or process, who has the knowledge base to understand what's going on? Well, it's usually someone who was, at one point or another, an industry insider.

While we'd like to think there's some sort of Solomonic consortium of liberal arts majors who can divine the deeper meaning of an industry's protocols and practices, that's not how it works in the real world. Expertise matters and it's hardly surprising that MMS was a bit of an old boy network with incestuous relationships to the industries it is tasked to regulate. It's the same thing across the board -- if you doubt that, check with a federal bank examiner; it's just about axiomatic that any examiner you meet once worked in the banking industry.

So here's a question that you can ponder, even if the president would prefer not to: if we know that regulators are going to have ties to the industry they regulate, why do we suppose that adding more regulators or commissions is going to make the regulatory process more effective?

I could go on for days about this, but let's leave it there for now.


K-Rod said...

Start building nuclear plants and start reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.

Learn from this accident.

Don't shut down drilling.

Gino said...

what this comes down to is the overall ineffectiveness of govt.

you need insiders to regulate. regulators will often times fail.

when will people wake up and realize that benefits also have costs. oil will spill.
deal with it.

and if you cant, dont drive a car or turn on your pc.