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Marty Linsky

Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .

Pile on BP

Q: Republican leaders have built their energy policies around increased oil and gas extraction, dismissing environmental dangers. How should they respond to the Gulf oil spill if they want to preserve offshore drilling as a politically viable option?

Remember Three Mile Island (TMI)? No one hurt. No environmental damage. Essentially a non-event. But a political disaster. TMI set back nuclear as a policy option for thirty years.

If the Republicans and others similarly inclined want to preserve offshore drilling as a policy option in the foreseeable future, they must lead the charge -- if they can catch up to Obama - in beating up on BP. Otherwise, the issue will be lost to them, to anyone, for years to come regardless of the severity of the actual impact of the spill on the Gulf and the states that border it.

If there is even a hint that the proponents of offshore driling are defending or explaning, minimizing the significance of the spill, or supportive of BP's defense, they will lose any chance they might still have of making credible and effective policy arguments.

Ironically, Obama may be their biggest ally here. Marry him on this one. Next embrace those folks in the Gulf states who are already bearing the brunt of the consequences of the spill. Insist on their being helped. Then, be patient.

You are in this for the long haul. Let time and circumstances smooth over memories and anxiety. And finally, don't resuface the issue until you can attach it on to an otherwise unrelated event, a dramatic rise in the price of OPEC oil, for example, or data showing that alternative enegy sources are not going to keep our lights on.

Ït's not going to be easy.

By Marty Linsky

 |  May 4, 2010; 10:28 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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6.2 2010/05/06 02:42:48 -18.023 -70.533 35.0 OFFSHORE TARAPACA, CHILE

Building oil platforms offshore is dangerous. Banking offshore is safe. All these things have a potential for breaking and breaking the bank.

Posted by: tossnokia | May 6, 2010 6:49 AM
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Some fact checking is needed here on some of the postings and particularly statements by so many elected and appointed public officials. Those who claim that renewables used for electricity can substitute for oil. That if we did solar and wind or biomass electricity etc etc we improve our national security by backing out oil. NO! The US gets almost all of its electricity from domestic sources already. Oil is used for only ~1% or less of electricity production (source: statistics at Energy Information Administration part of www.energy.gov). Electricity is pretty much domestically sourced already (I dont count some natural gas and hydro imports from Canada as much of a security threat.). The U.S. electric industry got off imported oil after the 1970's oil shocks. Particularly with national policy pushes by the Carter Administration and Congress back then to convert oil generation to COAL and NUCLEAR. And for various reasons natural gas as well in the 90s. Now one may want to increase renewables for other reasons -- but national security is a bogus reason. And not to say that biofuels when and if they become widely cost-effective can be used to back out oil.

Posted by: energygeek | May 4, 2010 10:53 PM
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The oil well spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico didn't have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as last-resort protection against underwater spills.
...it was Cheney's energy task force - the secretive one that he wouldn't say much about publicly - that decided that the switches, which cost $500,000, were too much a burden on the industry.

Posted by: BornAgainAmerican | May 4, 2010 3:37 PM
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A lot of verbiage on why, what, whom, etc.. from both sides of the oil drilling controversy but no one is willing to wait until the facts of this mishap are known. One thing is certain. It is one of many many rigs that have operated properly for many many years. People are impatient and just have to spew something or another on the issue. Too bad. I am sure that all will be known shortly and then all the bloggers and opinion-heads will be able to comment intelligently.

Posted by: HarGru | May 4, 2010 2:52 PM
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The first few days of this spill the Oil companies, Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and GOP allies said it was nothing, don't worry about it, and Waited a Week before Declaring it a Disaster.

We all knew different because they always down play the damage so the Oil Industry doesn't suffer from bad public relations and new safety restrictions.

GOP Drill-Baby-Drill Politicians defeated Safety Regulations Requiring Secondary Safety Wells, Remote Acoustic Triggers for Shut Off Valves, corrosion resistant Carbon Fiber Reinforced pipes, and High Quality Cement Sealing requirements; many of which are standard safety requirements in Canada, Brazil, and Norway.

Posted by: liveride | May 4, 2010 2:02 PM
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Distributed Biomass that has been heated (Torrefactioned) to give it the energy density of Coal is the low hanging fruit to replace monolithic Coal plants. Biomass Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facilities are 85~90% efficient and Carbon neutral compared to fossil fuel plants which are roughly 33% efficient with the rest lost in Heat that isn't used, and in Transmission.

Posted by: liveride | May 4, 2010 1:52 PM
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I don't think that this is the tack that the GOP is going to take. I listened to Hannady and Levine yesterday afternoon on Sirius and William Bennett this morning. They have a talking point strategy to blame this all on the gov't and Obama. They are hammering the idea that the Obama admin was too late to act. That if Obama had acted, this would all have been avoided by buring the oil on site on "day one". Ironic that these anti-govt folks are the first to place the blame on non government intervention. They hardly mention any responsibility that should be required of BP. Dems blamed Bush for lagging action on Katrina and the GOP is trying to spin this as equivalent.

Posted by: horbgorbler | May 4, 2010 1:43 PM
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I suspect that those screaming loudest for increasing domestic oil production - Sarah Palin springs immediately to mind - don't even know - I am sure she doesn't - that the oil that is produced from these American oil wells doesn't necessarily come back to this country at all. It is all sold on the open international market. So they are not increasing domestic oil production the way people like her seem to think. The only answer is to get serious about alternative energy resources. It makes no sense to continue policies that will ruin any chances our country has of succeeding.

Posted by: jjarvis1 | May 4, 2010 1:24 PM
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It is time we put all the republicans in camps, first Katrina and now the Oil spill.
the Wars the Housing bubble.
they cannot be trusted.
thank you Mr. obama.

Posted by: simonsays1 | May 4, 2010 12:38 PM
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If Multi-Billion dollar Industries have been Killed off for Decades as a result of Criminal Negligence, how does an Oil Company making $17 Billion a year in profits pay for it? $10~16 Billion a year for Decades. That is a reasonable Starting point.

Posted by: liveride | May 4, 2010 12:35 PM
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Drilling for a few million in royalties while putting our multi-billion dollar Tourism and Commercial Fishing industries at risk is not what we need (not to mention the gross environmental destruction, duh). We need to invest in creating Millions of Jobs from Renewable energy technologies. Virginia has enviable resources for Biofuel, Offshore Wind, Distributed Solar and Biomass (created by VA Farmers) Combined Heat and Power facilities. These take intelligence and work beyond trying to find free gold in the Sea. Nothing is free without hard work and Investment.

Right now, Alabama Senator Shelby and other GOP leaders are stalling Energy Legislation that will fund our Domestic Renewable Energy Development and Free us from Oil and Coal Dependence. Call, Write, and Visit them now and tell them to stop stalling. We need important JOBS and Energy Independence Legislation we need NOW.

For example:

Ontario’s Feed in Tariff for developing Offshore Wind resources on Lake Erie is attracting over $83 Billion in investment and generating over $253 Billion in Economic activity and 66,362 new jobs while creating manufacturing, Research and Development, Demonstration and Deployment activity.


Virginia and other East Coast States can create new Energy and Jobs within a short time as compared with the decades it takes for Nuclear, Gas and Oil and their drawbacks of waste and pollution.

Posted by: liveride | May 4, 2010 12:30 PM
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liveride - While your zeal is commendable, BP doesn't have hundreds of billions of dollars. Their after-tax profit in 2009 was about $17 billion, on revenues of about $245 billion. You can squeeze them for a heck of a lot more than $75 million, but at some number the company becomes unprofitable (and even before that point it becomes an unattractive investment) and it goes out of business, paying no damages at all.

Even in the case of numbskulls who richly deserve opprobrium & punishment, moderation is often useful.

Posted by: Bob-S | May 4, 2010 12:26 PM
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Nationalize the oil companies NOW! This huge eco-disaster has nearly destroyed the Gulf of Mexico. Solar/Wind/BioFuels are not ready for prime time. We need more oil and gas and we need them immediately. We have to stop throwing our money away to the Saudis and Chavez.

If we can send a man to the moon safely - we can drill for oil safely. It is going to take a national commitment and national resources to do so.

Posted by: alance | May 4, 2010 12:20 PM
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We currently use 25% of the world’s Oil while we have only 3% of it. No amount of domestic drilling will adjust that number even a percentage point or have any effect on the price of Oil on world markets. What will have the greatest effect is Using a lot Less of it. Transportation Efficiency can reduce that by several points, domestically produced Biofuels reduce it several more points. Developing Freight Rail (such as along the I-81 corridor) reduces it a few more points. Here is where we get the greatest Bang-for-the-Buck and Job Creation without sacrificing other Multi-Billion dollar industries and White Sand beaches.

Posted by: liveride | May 4, 2010 12:13 PM
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BP and Halliburton have a long term history of Criminal Negligence that should result in Prosecutions, Convictions, and Hundreds of Billions for damages awarded to the United States. BP and Halliburton should pay for the full cost for Cleanup of the Gulf Oil Spill environmental disaster; For the Jobs in Tourism and Commercial Fishing lost; For Military, Coast Guard, Homeland Security, FEMA support; plus a $500 Billion dollar Negligence Penalty to fund Oil Replacement Technologies. Cutting corners, killing workers through negligence, and creating disasters like this should have a Devastating Effect on the Companies Responsible and not just the Local Economies and Resources. The Taxpayer should not be bailing out Oil Companies.

Posted by: liveride | May 4, 2010 12:11 PM
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Repubicans signed on to Rush Limbaugh's strategy of Obama's failure, and have done nothing to change that stance. Why does anyone think they would change now? And seriously...who cares an iota about them anyway?

Posted by: swatkins1 | May 4, 2010 12:08 PM
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I believe the safest course is using geothermal transfer, energy efficient structures, biofuel vehicles and alternative energy for our needs. A solar panel/water heater on every house, wind turbines too, all done in America by America. The jury is out on nuclear (still better than fossil fuels) with current waste (fusion or thorium reactor commercially viable) and possible global warming (thousands of reactors unnaturally release heat into the atmosphere) damage. With sea ice sheets getting smaller, tropical deforestation, other development has created many dead zones in the seas, rivers, lakes, and natural co2 cleaners algae and tropical forests to be reduced. Tropical reefs getting bleached, reduced krill population all point to reduced fish stocks on a worldwide basis as man's population continues to grow. The wetlands probably can be dredged for a quick return but the oyster, shrimp, fish spawn habitats may be gone for decades. 75 million for affected fishing industry loss is a joke with a million people financially affected and a billion pounds of seafood severely reduced. The gov't put together albeit slowly on disaster call for the guard all available resources including naval equipment from other oil producers besides gov't assets to get this under control. The NOAA oil spill response plan was not designed to deal with deepwater spills. Dept. of Interior inspecting rigs should have been policy instead of self certification. Too little, too late. We should have the highest safety standards, not lower than successful countries like Norway. We all should take a clue from a former president and oilman Bush41 that knew the dangers, no Anwar, no offshore drilling with him as executive.

Posted by: jameschirico | May 4, 2010 11:55 AM
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Finally - a question on "leadership" in the WaPo that does NOT depend on "flogging the workers harder to dig up more potatos". A refreshing change of pace.

So - this has the potential to be an environmental disaster. I hope the economic livelihood of Gulf Coast residents is not ruined for decades, but I'm not hopeful. I saw an estimate of $1.6 Billion damage PER YEAR for the foreseeable future for the Gulf; and if, as I suspect, this catastrophe was avoidable, British Petroleum, Haliburton and the oil drilling crowd in general will be publically smacked down from now until November. "Drill, Baby, Drill" and "De-regulation" were the GOP mantras, and this is the logical result. The icing on the cake for a total GOP repudiation would be if British Petroleum insists on the $75 million "cap" for damages. If having their economy visibly ruined, the habitat destroyed and NO recompense because of "D.C. lobbying" does not convince these voters that the GOP only cares about exploitng them for cold, hard cash - nothing will; and the November elections will reflect that.

Posted by: shadowmagician | May 4, 2010 11:52 AM
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Republicans will never embrace anything Obama wants to do. He has adopted many of their ideas and they do nothing.

From a different standpoint, even the Republicans know that oil expansion is a short term fix. They just don't want to offend their contributors.

Posted by: jimbom | May 4, 2010 11:31 AM
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