Al Gore and the Oil Spill

Al Gore’s Oil Spill Silence,” The Daily Beast, 14 June 2010.

Is the famous environmental activist putting the Gulf crisis to waste?

In the spring of 1989, weeks after the catastrophic sinking of an Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, then-Senator Albert Gore, Jr. was leading the outcry against the company responsible for the second-worst oil spill in United States history. From his position on the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Gore demanded to know if Exxon was “stonewalling” the cleanup efforts. A flustered Coast Guard commandant, Paul Yost, told Congress that Exxon was doing “the most that can be done.”

In the years after the disaster, Gore has become synonymous with environmental action. In an advertisement for his 2000 campaign for president, Gore explicitly called for a ban on offshore drilling: “For me, this issue is not only an economic issue and a health issue, it is also a moral issue,” he said. “I think we have an obligation to do right by the environment.”

The spring of 2010 has brought an oil spill already several times larger than Exxon-Valdez, featuring the same cycle of catastrophe, recriminations, and pledges to do better. But 56 days after oil began flooding the Gulf of Mexico, Gore—whose Academy Award and Nobel Prize have made him the most influential environmental activist in the country—has been largely silent during the worst environmental catastrophe in memory.

His nonprofit Alliance for Climate Protection has emailed supporters that “the only way to end catastrophic oil spills like Deepwater is to end our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels.” But the climate crusader has not engaged with either the White House, the Department of the Interior, or the EPA. His most notable public statement has come in a short article for The New Republic’s website comparing the oil gusher to CO2 emissions. When President Barack Obama, who has pledged to move climate legislation forward this summer, convened a group of business leaders and energy experts in the Roosevelt Room of the White House last week, Gore was nowhere to be seen.

Friends and foes alike are noticing his absence.

“Al Gore has been keeping his head down now for some time, partly because of the scandals over climate science, partly because people revealed his financial incentive in passing climate legislation,” says Kenneth Green, an environmental policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “He seems to have decided to take his money and hit the door.”

Says Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who worked on Gore’s energy team in Clinton’s administration: “I don’t know why he hasn’t been more visible on this. Vice President Gore has a lot on his plate… He’s been trying to move the focus from threats to solutions.”

But, Hendricks adds, the crisis is an ideal opportunity to enact solutions to the problems that have become Gore’s life’s work. “The real security comes from guaranteeing that this will never happen again, by absolutely committing to a low-carbon path forward,” he says. “If the oil spill continues and a robust case is not made for climate legislation, it will be a missed opportunity.”

Granted, Gore is no longer an elected official, and has been going through a rough time of it personally: He’s splitting from Tipper, his wife of 40 years, and his daughter Karenna is likewise ending her marriage. And that was before the Star Magazine-fueled rumors that Gore had had an affair with environmentalist Laurie David—a rumor David vigorously denies. “He is anti-media right now,” says Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist from the Gulf Coast who managed Gore’s 2000 campaign. “I doubt he will become a spokesperson for our cause.”

Kalee Kreider, a spokesperson for Gore’s office in Nashville, said in a statement: “Former Vice President Gore has addressed the crisis in the Gulf in a major speech, an essay in The New Republic and through numerous postings on his Twitter and personal online journal on algore.com. He also works closely on the climate crisis, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and the oil spill through the philanthropy that he chairs, the Alliance for Climate Protection, based in Washington, DC.”

Contrast this with last summer, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought her climate bill to the floor of Congress. Gore phoned wavering members and twisted arms alongside the president to pass the landmark American Clean Energy and Security Act. As the Senate debates a version of that legislation that could reduce emissions and consumption of domestic oil reserves, Gore is far behind the scenes.

Gore’s disappearance means that environmentalists are lacking that strong voice at precisely the wrong moment. New polling suggests 76 percent of Americans support some government limitations on greenhouse-gas emissions. (Pollution-soaked pelicans are a powerful emotional argument for getting off the oil drum.) The Senate recently rejected a backward-looking resolution to discredit the EPA from Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski. “It shows that senators are now scared of being tied to fossil-fuel interests,” says Michael Levi, a climate expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That suggests to me that there is a political opening.”

James Carville, a Clinton campaign veteran who has criticized the administration’s response to the spill, would go further. “We don’t need legislation, we need to utterly reject the philosophy that companies and markets are able to regulate themselves,” he says. “Until you have that you’re going to have banking crises and environmental catastrophes.”

The problem is connecting the dots for the American people. Obama has stuck to the line that domestic oil production will remain “part of the energy mix” for the foreseeable future. “He talks about [energy independence] a lot,” says Levi, “but he hasn’t made a big push on it—he’s been busy with other things.” Obama delivers his first address from the Oval Office Tuesday night, focusing on the oil spill and energy and climate issues. But a name like Gore’s could help shoulder the burden of advocacy, and mobilize pressure for a climate bill that lives up to the promises made during the Obama campaign and in international climate negotiations.

Still, there may be some advantages to Gore’s laying low on climate action. “If you consider the difficulty of trying to pass cap and trade during a recession,” one Obama adviser told the Atlantic, “keeping a lower profile makes sense. Why stir up the opposition?” And Gore is certainly a lightning rod for conservative climate-change deniers. “Gore has gravitas with people who already agree with him,” says Levi. “It’s not clear to me what that does for the country at large.” What’s more, says Carville, “He’s not the president. The White House may not want that kind of intervention.”

Dayo Olopade

Al Gore’s Weird Silence

by Dayo Olopade Info

Dayo Olopade

  • Share

Yes, he’s out of office, and splitting with his wife. But Dayo Olopade investigates why America’s leading environmentalist is conspicuously absent from the debate over the worst environmental disaster of our time.

In the spring of 1989, weeks after the catastrophic sinking of an Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, then-Senator Albert Gore, Jr. was leading the outcry against the company responsible for the second-worst oil spill in United States history. From his position on the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Gore demanded to know if Exxon was “stonewalling” the cleanup efforts. A flustered Coast Guard commandant, Paul Yost, told Congress that Exxon was doing “the most that can be done.”

“He is anti-media right now,” says Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist from the Gulf Coast who managed Gore’s 2000 campaign. “I doubt he will become a spokesperson for our cause.”


Al Gore addresses BP at Panetta Lecture

In the years after the disaster, Gore has become synonymous with environmental action. In an advertisement for his 2000 campaign for president, Gore explicitly called for a ban on offshore drilling: “For me, this issue is not only an economic issue and a health issue, it is also a moral issue,” he said. “I think we have an obligation to do right by the environment.”

The spring of 2010 has brought an oil spill already several times larger than Exxon-Valdez, featuring the same cycle of catastrophe, recriminations, and pledges to do better. But 56 days after oil began flooding the Gulf of Mexico, Gore—whose Academy Award and Nobel Prize have made him the most influential environmental activist in the country—has been largely silent during the worst environmental catastrophe in memory.

His nonprofit Alliance for Climate Protection has emailed supporters that “the only way to end catastrophic oil spills like Deepwater is to end our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels.” But the climate crusader has not engaged with either the White House, the Department of the Interior, or the EPA. His most notable public statement has come in a short article for The New Republic’s website comparing the oil gusher to CO2 emissions. When President Barack Obama, who has pledged to move climate legislation forward this summer, convened a group of business leaders and energy experts in the Roosevelt Room of the White House last week, Gore was nowhere to be seen.

Friends and foes alike are noticing his absence.

“Al Gore has been keeping his head down now for some time, partly because of the scandals over climate science, partly because people revealed his financial incentive in passing climate legislation,” says Kenneth Green, an environmental policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “He seems to have decided to take his money and hit the door.”

Says Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who worked on Gore’s energy team in Clinton’s administration: “I don’t know why he hasn’t been more visible on this. Vice President Gore has a lot on his plate… He’s been trying to move the focus from threats to solutions.”

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2 thoughts on “Al Gore and the Oil Spill

  1. There couldn’t be a better time for Al Gore to wake up, stand up, man up, and keep up with what everyone is not doing.
    The spill is on going, blame is everywhere, and BP along with the US Government is pointing fingers and covering butts. NO ONE is doing anything about the Gulf residents who are cleaning up the toxic crude oil. How about demanding that BP supplies respirators for every employee who is on a cleaning crew? I have posted this alert since the first leak, and will continue until every worker has protection from the toxic fumes.

    My letter to Gulf Residents.
    http://www.urbanconservancy.org/letters/gulf-coast-cleanup-caution-urged

    The crude oil is toxic, and anyone who cleans the oily Gulf beaches needs to know the danger.
    http://www.lvrj.com/news/exxon-valdez-oil-risks-spur-warning-for-gulf-cleanup-crews-93258964.html

    My name is Merle Savage, a female general foreman during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) beach cleanup in 1989. I am one of the 11,000+ cleanup workers, who is suffering from health issues from that toxic cleanup, without compensation from Exxon.

    Dr. Riki Ott visited me in 2007 to explain about the toxic spraying on the beaches, and informed me that Exxon’s medical records that surfaced in litigation by sick workers in 1994, had been sealed from the public, making it impossible to hold Exxon responsible for their actions. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5632208859935499100

    Beach crews breathed in crude oil that splashed off the rocks and into the air — the toxic exposure turned into chronic breathing conditions, central nervous system problems, neurological impairment, chronic respiratory disease, leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, liver damage, and blood disease. http://www.silenceinthesound.com/stories.shtml

    My web site is devoted to searching for EVOS cleanup workers who were exposed to the toxic spraying, and are suffering from the same illnesses that I have. Our summer employment turned into a death sentence for many — and a life of unending medical conditions for the rest of Exxon’s Collateral Damaged.

  2. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Al Gore owns stock in Corexit 9500, the toxic dispersant being used in the Gulf right now would it?

    He might not like people to find that out ……

    Nalco, maker of Corexit, the toxic chemical being sprayed by BP has controlling interests co-owned by Al Gore, George Soros, Barack Obama and others (public record).

    Not only is toxicity pouring into the gulf from the undersea volcano, but BP is deliberately spraying the highly toxic Corexit into the air and over populated areas. Hurricane season is coming up, destined to carry the poisonous gases inland over the eastern US.

    BP is using toxic chemicals to ‘clean-up’ Corexit made by Nalco to arial spray over the oil. This poison contains mercury and arsenic. It is far more toxic and less effective than any of the other oil dispersants that could have been used. (why would they use this when there are safer and less harmful alternatives such as microbes etc?) Corexit is 10 times more toxic than the oil.

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