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BP disaster called 'Cheney's Katrina'

As the White House takes increasing political heat for the growing British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a left-leaning think tank is pointing a finger at the previous administration, which has been out of office for 16 months.

“BP’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is without a doubt former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Katrina,” the American Center for Progress declared today.

“President George W. Bush and Cheney consistently catered to Big Oil and other special interests to undercut renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives that would set the United States on a more secure clean energy path,” the organization charged.

While enjoying record profits, the ACP said, oil companies benefitted from policies they “wrote for themselves.”

“These energy policies did nothing for our national security and left consumers to pay the price at the pump and on their energy bills, which rose more than $1,100 during the Bush administration,” the think tank said.

The ACP presented a timeline of the Bush administration’s “direction, consequent legislative steps and missteps, and the resulting circumstances that provided advantages to Big Oil companies and led to the establishment of a regulatory system that created the BP oil disaster.”

The think tank begins with “Cheney’s secret dirty energy task force” crafting national energy policy in 2001, noting the vice president was kept on the payroll of the oil and gas company Halliburton after retirement as CEO and retained about 430,000 shares of the company’s stock.

The task forces’ proposal, ACP said, “clearly represented the interests of dirty industry, including opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and encouraging oil and gas production, coal output, and the development of biofuels and nuclear power.”

The Bush administration, argued the think tank, opposed expansion of renewable energy, while Congress cut funds for renewable energy and increased support for “dirty energy.”

In 2008, the report noted, Bush lifted a moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Bush then called on Congress to lift its own annual ban on drilling as Republican presidential nominee John McCain embraced “drill, baby, drill” as a campaign slogan.

‘Top priority’

Meanwhile, President Obama is fending off a growing public belief that he was slow to react to the disaster. In a speech in Pittsburgh today he repeated his insistance that he is fully engaged.

“Right now, stopping this oil spill and containing its damage must be the top priority of my administration, and we are waging this battle every minute of every day,” he said.

The president is using the spill to argue for passage of an energy bill now before Congress that emphasizes clean energy, paid for by rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies.

“We have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth – risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes,” he said. “Just like we have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and grandchildren.”

Obama asserted the “time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.”

Environmentalists to blame?

Some analysts, however, are placing a measure of blame for the spill on environmentalists. Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, was asked by David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday whether the problem is that oil companies are forced to drill in water that is too deep.

Democrats in Congress have blocked drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve and in the shallower waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.

Browner, noted an Investors Business Daily editorial, “tap-danced around the question by saying it was one of the things to think about while we shut down the domestic oil industry.”

The paper said, “Browner et al. should indeed think about the fact that if British Petroleum and others were not barred from drilling in ANWR or in the shallower water of the Outer Continental Shelf, we might not be having this conversation.”

After the failure of its “top kill” procedure, British Petroleum now
is attempting to install a containment device on top of the wellhead
that would channel oil up to a ship.

An estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day is gushing
into the Gulf, according to the estimate of a group of scientists led
by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Oil has now reached land on parts of Mississippi, and tar balls
and sheening have been spotted in Alabama. A six-foot-long oil sheen
was seen along Florida’s Panhandle that was said to be “close to the
beach if not right on the beach,” according to the spill command center
in Mobile, Ala.