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PRUDEN: As hysteria subsides, a calm second look

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, you're obviously not going to be at home in Washington.

We were all supposed to be dead by now. Avian flu was supposed to get most of us, or maybe it was AIDS, SARS, Hong Kong flu, killer tomatoes, poisoned peanut butter, global warming or strangulation by kudzu, all once-familiar doomsday threats to the planet. Sometimes, it's hard to keep up with the reasons we're all dead.

Earlier this year, it was swine flu, and a polite cough or an innocent sneeze was enough to call the undertaker to reserve a suitable coffin against the day when none would be available, so great would be the demand. The feds announced last week, in a footnote to the latest hysteria, that vaccine stockpiled for treating swine flu, once worth $250 million, would be disposed of since this year's killer flu was a big bust.

The only people who get anything out of these exercises are the government bureaucrats, who never let a crisis go to waste, which is why they have become so skilled at manufacturing crises. You could follow the money, and see whose agencies grow in the wake of hysteria. British Petroleum, or whatever the BP executives are calling themselves this week, is spending billions to clean up the mess they made, but the betting here is that this is a paltry sum compared with what President Obama and his spendthrifts will eventually spend in creating new government programs to "prevent" future disasters.

The watchmen of press and tube are going along for the ride, as usual, with the speculation of how miserable life will be soon for pelicans, turtles, sharks, shrimp, oysters and even Joe Sixpack and his friends unless the government collects all the taxpayer loot it wants. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cranked up its computers and came up with scenarios of what the Atlantic beaches can expect: a 61 percent to 80 percent chance that the oil will reach to within 20 miles of the Florida Keys once it begins a left turn around the peninsula, and "weathered" tar balls will wash up on the beach at Miami and even Fort Lauderdale.

The hysteria led to cries that the crude would eventually despoil everything forever, turning the Gulf of Mexico black as a vast permanent pool of oil. Maybe the Gulf Stream would eventually push it against Europe. But the hysteria has subsided enough that federal agencies are competing with each other now over how to get the biggest slice of a growing slick of taxpayer green. Suddenly stopping the spreading oil is not as urgent as it was. The environmentalists are pressuring the Obama administration to slow down, lest burning the oil on the surface of the sea kill turtles. You might think the turtles would know enough to dive to safe water.

The Gulf oil blowout is bad and sad enough without making it worse with exaggeration. By the end of this week, the skimmers and other cleanup efforts are expected to collect nearly all of the 60,000 barrels of crude gushing from the Gulf floor, and the drillers of the relief well are seven days ahead of schedule, maybe more.

BP had expected to intersect the stricken well by the middle of August, and now it appears that it might be closer to the first of August. "I am reluctant to tell you that it will be before the middle of August," says Adm. Thad Allen of the U.S. Coast Guard, the man in charge, "because I think everything associated with this spill and response recovery suggests that we should under-promise and over-deliver."

Some environmental voices have lowered the high-decibel hysteria. Richard H. Mason, an oil driller who was a three-term president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and a member of the board of the state Department of Environmental Quality, scoffs at the frenzied predictions that man and nature won't repair the damage for a century. "The real solution to pollution is dilution," he says (in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette), "and the BP blowout has that going for it. Oil is part of nature, and the Gulf of Mexico has hundreds of natural oil seeps that flow into it every day. Granted, these seeps are only a few hundred barrels [daily], but the ecosystem absorbs this amount of oil easily."

He thinks most of the damage will be repaired within a year. Then we can get back to worrying about the killer tomatoes, poison peanut butter and out-of-control kudzu.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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About the Author
Wesley Pruden

Wesley Pruden

Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...

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