Haley Barbour, Oil Expert

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There have been many stupid stories in the past weeks about the Gulf oil spill. But this one might just take the cake: “Mississippi leaders: Spill’s environmental impact overhyped.”

It’s hard to know where to begin on this one. Perhaps the most important question: When did Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour become an expert on oil toxicity?

Barbour, DMR Director Bill Walker, DEQ Director Trudy Fisher and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant have all described the oil and tar that has made its way to Mississippi waters and shores as “nontoxic.” Barbour said the “first cuts,” or volatile chemicals in the crude such as benzene, evaporate quickly near the well site and that the oil that makes it further into the Gulf is “emulsified and weathered.”

Wait, it gets more comical: Oil is just like toothpaste, according to Barbour:

Barbour has also said the risk to wildlife from oiling is not as bad as some have been saying.

“Once it gets to this stage, it’s not poisonous,” Barbour said. “But if a small animal got coated enough with it, it could smother it. But if you got enough toothpaste on you, you couldn’t breathe.”

I wonder if it’s Barbour’s years as a big-time lobbyist for interests like tobacco and big oil that qualify him to render these informed opinions. In fact, Barbour’s time lobbying for dirty energy interests appears to be his only qualification for talking about the subject.

At least the others quoted in the article are nominally better prepared to comment on the science. But that doesn’t make them any less wrong. Contrary to what they state in the piece, oil is toxic, it’s not just “CO2 and water” as one state official implies, and evidence has shown that it is getting into the food chain. But maybe reality is different in Mississippi.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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