As expected, the president’s National Oil Spill Commission final report was the political equivalent of a police officer saying “move on, nothing to see here.” But with hundreds of pages, the commission’s work will become a launch point for many debates – including a stark example of the gap between public health risks and actual human beings.
A dramatic example is being reported by David Hammer at the Times-Picayune. He tells the story of James “Catfish” Miller, a Biloxi fisherman who worked for two months using his boat to cleanup BP’s spill. Taking advantage of a public hearing in New Orleans, Mr. Miller told commissioners that he is sick from the oil exposure and “…nobody wants to take care of me.”
The Times-Picayune says that Miller “…bristled at the commission’s conclusion that BP’s use of dispersants was a ‘trade-off’ between the possible exposure to chemical toxins and the certain need to prevent oil from coming ashore and doing greater ecological damage.”
“You people need to understand: My life’s not a trade-off,” Miller said. And Mr. Hammer says the comment came with anger, which isn’t hard to imagine.
One commissioner, according to the TP report, said that health concerns are “clearly a dominant issue down here,” and then promised to share the “really, really powerful” stories of despair with President Obama and his cabinet. But another commissioner warned that the investigative panel was limited in its assessment of the spill’s health impacts by a lack of empirical evidence.
That’s a major point. We begin with a commission lacking subpoena power, so they can only hear from people who want to talk. Then you stress “empirical” evidence in an environment where NOAA and the Coast Guard are the primary custodians of such evidence. Time and again, we’ve seen independent, non-governmental scientists first challenge, then disprove the “official” line.
So, yes, health concerns are a “dominant issue down here,” and sick residents seriously resent being a “trade off”…because they understand that the trade goes beyond the immediate BP spill – now it’s extending deep into the post-spill response.
The Times-Picayune story is here: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2011/01/oil_spills_health_effects_rais.html
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