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“Sometimes Accidents Happen”

Libertarian snipes at “un-American . . . criticism of business”

Dr. Rand Paul’s comments [1] about the 1964 Civil Rights Act have been getting the attention they deserve, but we’re also troubled by his criticism [2] of the Obama administration for keeping the pressure on BP to plug its five-week-plus Deepwater Oil Hemorrhage in the Gulf of Mexico. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on May 21 Rand said:

What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP.’ I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. . . . I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen.

“Accidents” surely do happen (“stuff happens [3],” too), but what also happens to make avoidable industrial accidents potentially catastrophic is that corporations decide to cut costs by not installing shut-off mechanisms such as the acoustic switch that BP opted not to use on the Deepwater Horizon well. (See “Oil-Spotted Dick: Cheney’s Oily Fingerprints in the BP Disaster [4].”)

As the Times-Picayune’s Bob Marshall points out in a strong opinion piece, “Oil Disaster Brought to You by Deregulation [5],” it’s deregulation—“the movement to eliminate federal laws that protect people and the environment,” and industry lobbyists’ financing of the public officials now jostling for position in enviro-friendly photo ops that have brought us this fine mess.

Even after the disaster, industry promoters are saying how rare such accidents are, are talking (in almost reverential tones) about how amazing the technology for deep-ocean drilling is, often using the refrain “this is like stuff we do in space.” . . . minimizing the catastrophic damage possible from an accident in these locations is beyond technological hubris. It is closer to criminal malfeasance on the part of those sworn to protect the public’s property and health. . . . We always knew accidents would happen, but what this event teaches us is the industry has no effective way to prevent a mishap from becoming a catastrophe.

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