Mississippi Gov. Barbour Fronts for BP
Louie Miller, state director of the Sierra Club in Mississippi, is burning up. And its not the sweltering heat typical of Mississippi summers that's getting to him: It's Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and his kid-glove treatment of BP over its oil blow-out disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I don't know how to express the level of frustration and disgust and contempt that we have for this whole episode and the havoc that it is wreaking on our coastline," said Miller, a native of Mississippi.
"But it is tragic that our governor seems more interested in mitigating the reputation of British Petroleum than he is in mitigating the devastating impacts to our shoreline, sea life and precious barrier islands."
But, Miller added, what can you expect from a governor who said last week on NPR that "It's BP that's got the most to lose."
On Saturday, the Sierra Club director was horrified to learn first-hand that well over two months into the crisis, neither the state of Mississippi nor BP appeared to have any workable rescue plan in place for sea birds that were covered with oil.
"On Thursday, an associate [of the Sierra Club] saw a bird drenched in oil and struggling, and called the hotline listed by BP for impacted wild life, hoping to get a quick response," said Miller. "Twenty-six hours later, the bird was still where it was first seen and almost dead."
Miller said he called the hotline again on Friday and ended up with a BP operator in Houston who took his name, e-mail and phone number, "but had no information and not a clue about what was going on in Mississippi or even where the injured birds were."
When Miller asked if BP was going to make a case number and take specific details for tracking the bird, the BP operator, who only gave a first name, hung up on Miller.
"And I thought to myself, the cleanup operation in Mississippi, the BP rescue operation in this state, is a straight-up hoax."
On Monday, WLOX in Biloxi, Mississippi, reported that there would be "changes" in the bird rescue protocols "after oiled birds were left for hours on Ship Island."
The on-site coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality out of Mobile's Unified Command, Richard Harrell, said in a report, quoted by WLOX, that the Houston-based "[BP] dispatcher made decisions outside of his purview and did not follow set procedures to obtain accurate information. This individual has been released and the procedures are reviewed with each dispatcher at the beginning of their work shift."
By Friday afternoon, Miller said there were more than 40 oiled birds.
"I confronted a couple of BP workers on Friday," Miller said, suggesting they take the oiled birds somewhere to be treated.
"They said to me they didn't know how to do that. So I started telling them how...and then they said ‘where would we take them' and I said, ‘you don't have a rescue centers set up? And they said something like ‘sorry we can't talk to you.'"
Miller is furious that Barbour has continued to play down the disaster at every turn, saying just about "anything" to quell people fears and take the heat off BP.
"Barbour tells us, ‘this oil isn't anything to worry about, it's like the sheen coming off the back of a ski boat, you know, you wouldn't want to wash your face in it, but you don't mind skiing through it.'"
According to Barbour's public statements, the birds shouldn't have been at risk because the oil coming in was weathered and is non-toxic. At one point, Barbour said oil waste products were akin to "toothpaste."
"Once it gets to this stage, it's not poisonous," Barbour said. "But if a small animal got coated enough with it, it could smother it. But if you got enough toothpaste on you, you couldn't breathe."
Barbour also likened the waste product from the oil spill to an "emulsified, caramel-colored mousse, like the food mousse."
Meanwhile, on Monday - Day 78 of the oil spill - Mississippi was first testing the Skimmer boats that the state had built. The 13 skimmer boats are not scheduled to be operational until Aug. 1.
"And we have been saying this all along, ‘where are the skimmers, where are the big boats ... to go out beyond the barrier islands, and attack this oil spill before it impacts what we consider to be the crown jewels of the national parks in Mississippi, which is Gulf Islands National Sea Shore," Miller said. The Sierra Club state director said he believes Gov. Barbour has a conflict in interest from his long-time relationship with Big Oil, which has been generous to Republican fundraising efforts that Barbour headed including as national party chairman from 1993 to 1997.
In a recent interview on Fox News, Barbour worried out loud that the $20 billion BP pay-out fund, recently put in to play by President Obama, would be too much for BP to bear.
"I do worry that this idea of making them make a huge escrow fund is going to make it less likely that they'll pay for everything," Barbour said. "They need their capital to drill wells. They need their capital to produce income."
Noam Scheiber has written extensively on Barbour and his potential conflicts of interest.
In a May 6, guest blog for The New Republic, Scheiber stated that since Barbour became governor in 2004, he "has never convincingly demonstrated that he severed ties to the lobbying firm he founded, Barbour, Griffith, & Rogers (BGR), which specializes in fighting for tobacco interests but also deals with energy and other issues.
"At the time, we were struck," writes Scbeiber, "by the way Barbour had twice-vetoed and continued to oppose a wildly popular ‘tax swap' plan that would have cut the state's hugely regressive grocery tax and replaced it with a tax increase on tobacco.
"The thing that caught our eye was that BGR had received some $2 million in revenue from tobacco companies since Barbour became governor."
Also, as soon as he became governor, Barbour strongly supported legislation to drill right off the Mississippi coast islands near a prized National Sea Shore.
"It was the first bill that he pushed through the legislature when he was governor," said Miller.
Miller is deeply troubled that Barbour has been out of touch and out of the state recently -- busy as the New Chair of the Republican Governors Association, raising cash for dozens of GOP campaigns across the country, as well as setting up the infrastructure for his own possible presidential bid.
Barbour has, indeed, been very busy on the fundraising front, even at the height of the oil disaster.
Politico.com reported on June 24 that "his apparatus, which has socked away hundreds of thousands of dollars this year alone, will get a major boost - as will the Barbour 2012 buzz -when the governor takes some time away from the Gulf oil spill threatening his home region's shorelines to attend a big fundraiser Thursday for one of his three political action committees."
On June 27, after two months of pooh-poohing the warnings of environmentalists and first responders -- and blaming journalists for exaggerating the crisis -- Barbour finally admitted his state had a serious problem, as oil hit the Mississippi shore line and approached the highly prized Barrier Islands.
"The amount of oil moving into Mississippi waters has greatly increased in the last several days," Barbour acknowledged, "and the prevailing winds that cause the oil and its residue to move in our direction are predicted to continue, at least until the middle of the week.
"We continue to press the Federal Unified Command and BP to increase the amount of resources available. ... While command-and-control of on-water resources has improved, it must get much better, and the amount of resources to attack the oil offshore must be greatly increased. Under the circumstances, we are taking some of that into our own hands."
Despite the governor's admission regarding the oil entering Mississippi waters and the barriers islands on June 27, there was still no one at the BP hotlines on July 1 to carry out any kind of timely intervention on behalf of the wounded wildlife.
Miller believes mistrust of the governor is growing stronger by the day because of his lack of action and his attempts to blame journalists and environmentalists, instead of the BP and lax government regulations.
"It is not just myself," the Sierra Club state director said, "it's the people all across the coast [who] are totally and completely frustrated with the way that this has been mishandled. ...
"He assured us that there was a flotilla, an armada of boats out there...to protect our Mississippi coast line," but it turned out that the coastline was not protected.
A scathing editorial in the Mississippi Sun Herald , which endorsed Barbour for governor twice, is an indication of the disappointment in Barbour and the shock that the governor has been out fundraising when Mississippi is under siege.
"With the smallest coastline on the Gulf, Mississippi's ecology should have been the most defensible. Yet an underestimation of the potential threat, particularly by Barbour, has left us more vulnerable," the editorial said. Barbour "has spent much of his time being an advocate for the state's tourism industry - and for the oil industry which threatens it. And, of course, he has been playing a very active role in Republican politics. ...
"His travels to distant places and engagement in political fundraising during these days of crisis on the Coast are questionable, even troubling. Barbour's priority ought to be with his constituents in Mississippi."
Barbour's actions "speak for themselves," Miller said, adding: "The bottom line is that he has had ten weeks, unlike Louisiana, to prepare for the onslaught of this oil slick that has continued to grow exponentially while the governor has done nothing."
Except front for BP.