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Melancon: “Everything I Know and Love Is at Risk…These Are America’s Wetlands”

Representative Charlie Melancon (D. Louisiana) at today’s House Commmittee Hearing on effects of the BP oil disaster on his state:

Our culture is threatened. Our culture and economy’s threatened. And everything I know and love is at risk.

Even though this marsh lies along coastal Lousiana, . . . these are America’s wetlands.

Amen to that.

In his press conference Thursday, President Obama spoke to these feelings:

I think everyone understands that when we are fouling the earth like this, it has concrete implications not just for this generation but for future generations.

I grew up in Hawaii where the ocean is sacred. And when you see birds flying around with oil all over their feathers, and turtles dying, that doesn’t just speak to the immediate economic consequences of this, it speaks to how are we caring for this incredible bounty that we have.

And so when I hear folks down in Louisiana express frustrations, I may not always think that their comments are fair; on the other hand, I probably think to myself these are folks who grew up fishing in these wetlands and seeing this as an integral part of who they are. And to see that messed up in this fashion would be infuriating.

Yes, there’s anger and frustration, but more than that, there’s a deep sadness. FDL’s Michael Whitney has been reporting from Louisiana, and he tells us the most common emotion he sees is that everyone is heartbroken. They know they’re losing an irreplaceable treasure, part of their American heritage, part of who they are. It’s being taken from them and no one seems able to stop it.

The President is correct when he says while the crisis is ongoing, "my job is to get this fixed." But it can’t end there. We did not get here by "accident," and this is not an isolated event:

So the thing that the American people need to understand is that not a day goes by where the federal government is not constantly thinking about how to make sure that we minimize the damage of this thing down, we review what happened to make sure it does not happen again.

In that sense there are analogies to what’s been happening in the financial markets and some of these other areas, where big crises happen.

It forces us to do some soul searching. And I think that’s important for all of us to do.

He’s right, and you can probably make the same point about where every major component of the US government intersects with a major industry, and particularly about every regulatory agency that deals with the largest corporations in our economy.

Everyone who paid attention the last 10 years — no 30 years — should realize that since Ronald Reagan’s hate government crowd came to power, there’s been an unrelenting assault on the legitimacy of government and its ability to function in the public interest. The so-called conservatives are not out to preserve anything you or I care about; their goal has been to destroy the notion of public interest governance and replace it with a powerful government subservient to corporate interests. "The banks own this place." And so do the energy giants, and the insurance giants, the media giants, the agri-chemical giants and so on.

Barack Obama knows this. Putting the best face on his views, he claims to believe an intelligent government can effectively oversee and mitigate the worst instincts and excesses of these beasts, and then harness those forces in service to a more humane, defensible economic system. It’s an interesting theory, but it’s hard to point to a single example of a major industry whose government oversight retains even a shred of credibility. We have lost too much ground, and we can’t move forward until we recapture it.

The financial industry practically destroyed much of the economy and left millions unemployed, just as the oil industry is destroying much of the Gulf and the livelihoods there. The devastation each wrought is beyond measure. Every aspect of the federal regulatory system for the financial sector failed, and it’s still in place.

But does anyone truly believe that the agri-chemical industry is doing any less to our farms and food production, that there are not chemical blowouts, environmental time bombs already planted and poisoning us while the USDA looks on? Has PhRMA’s behavior, or that of major insurers and corporate hospitals proved any different? Have any of their regulators remained effective after decades of deliberate hollowing out? Do we even have a Justice Department anymore? A Federal Trade Commission?

America is being strangled by unchecked corporate power, and it’s leaving a trail of dying habitats, devastated communities, layed off workers and heartbroken peoples. Seeing that, explaining that, fighting that, and yes, fixing that, is your job, Mr. President. It’s what people voted for. Lead that fight, and the country will follow you.

[Minor edits Friday a.m.]

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley