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Trump Bails Out Oil Industry, Not U.S. Families, as Coronavirus Crisis Intensifies

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Trump Bails Out Oil Industry, Not U.S. Families, as Coronavirus Crisis Intensifies
Donald Trump during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on Friday, March 13. Zach Roberts / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Jon Queally

Climate action groups and progressive critics expressed disappointment and outrage on Friday afternoon after President Donald Trump — despite a continued failure to offer far-reaching support to the U.S. public — moved to bolster the bottom lines of oil and gas companies by announcing a massive federal purchase for the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).


"Based on the price of oil, I've also instructed the Secretary of Energy to purchase at a very good price large quantities of crude oil for storage in the U.S. strategic reserve," Trump announced during a White House press conference — surrounded by CEOs from major corporations, including Walmart, CVS, and Target — in which he also declared an official national emergency in order to combat the outbreak of the coronavirus.

"We're going to fill it right up to the top," said of the SPR, but critics were quick to point out that move has everything to do with helping his wealthy friends and cronies in the fossil fuel industry, and nothing to do with helping average people now under threat from the spreading pandemic.

"Trump has once again put the interests of oil and gas executives ahead of the interests of people and communities," said Alex Doukas of Oil Change International. "With this move, Trump has rolled out a plan to prop up U.S. oil companies before he has even bothered to guarantee paid sick leave for US workers who are going to be on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis for weeks to come."

The news came Friday as additional school closures were announced for states nationwide, grocery store shelves were wiped clean, and worry continues to spread about just how extensive the outbreak will become.

Greenpeace warned that the total cost of the oil purchase "could exceed $2.6 billion in public funds," a stark comparison when put next to the proposal put forth by House Democrats just hours earlier. Introducing the "Families First Coronavirus Response Act" which calls for an estimated $1.7 billion aimed at helping working families and children to weather the public health crisis, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "The American people expect and deserve a coordinated, science-based and whole-of-government response to keep them and their loved ones safe: a response that puts families first to stimulate the economy."

By putting his administration's emphasis on bailing out the oil industry, John Noël, a senior climate campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said the president is doing the opposite of putting people first.

"Trump's response to a global pandemic is to put billionaires and corporate polluters ahead of American families. There's no evidence that this handout would protect jobs, pensions, benefits, or ease the hardships facing fossil fuel workers or communities confronting the COVID-19 outbreak right now. It's nothing more than a gift to the industry that created the climate crisis."

Doukas agreed, calling it "wildly inappropriate" for Trump "to abuse the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a tool to prop up the oil and gas industry at a time when the White House should be focusing on how to help everyday people in the US."

"Where is the relief for workers grappling with caring for their families, retail workers risking exposure every day, families grappling with debt and mounting bills while their livelihoods are put at risk?" he asked. "No, today President Trump focused on propping up polluting industries and trotting out CEOs to sell their wares."

Despite the criticisms from those focused on the needs of families, it appeared the announcement during what was dubbed Trump's "Shock Doctrine press conference" had the desired result.

As CNBC reported, following Trump's late-day announcement, "crude futures jumped 5%" in the last hour of market trading.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

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France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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