Yesterday, as my wife and I were driving to a Memorial Day get-together, we noticed the heavy haze which uncharacteristically hung over Providence. Suddenly, Providence looked like Houston, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and other cities with big air pollution problems. Apparently, the smoke was an import from Quebec, where 52 forest fires are consuming acres of forest. The NASA image above shows how far the smoke has spread. While the smoke is a temporary nuisance, this is a reminder that nothing is really local anymore. It is also a reminder of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, where the “top kill” attempt failed and oil continues to gush.
The epic failure of British Petroleum, TransOcean, and Halliburton to prepare for this kind of catastrophe resulted not only in a destroyed deep sea rig, but the pollution of the Gulf and the crucial wetlands of Louisiana. Rachel Maddow does a good job showing the impact so far. However, the oil continues to gush. The spreading oil is also a clear indication of another growing phenomenon, regulatory capture. To just look at the energy industry, oil companies write energy legislation. Oil company veterans staff the Mineral Management Service. British Petroleum’s former Chief Scientist is now the Department of Energy Undersecretary for Energy and Science. Critics of government say that the government has become too powerful; however, this oil spill is a clear indication of how far regulatory capture has spread, how much power corporations have in Washington, and how ineffective regulation can be when it is tailor made by the industry it is designed to regulate.