U.S. Rep. Lois Capps usually is content to capably represent her district and stick to her strengths on issues such as education and health care.
But in her response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf Coast, she’s demonstrated real leadership — and proven to her constituents in the 23rd Congressional District that when she’s passionate about an issue, she can elevate her game.
Twice in recent weeks she’s come up with ideas that have substantially advanced the public debate on BP and its egregious conduct — before, during and after the accident that claimed 11 lives and brought billions of dollars in damage to four states.
Her call for BP to suspend its dividend spread like wildfire on Capitol Hill and in the media and rippled across the Atlantic.
Whether BP reduces its payout or finds another way to finance a cleanup fund, her comments put BP on notice that business as usual would be a woefully inadequate way to take care of the hundreds of small businesses and thousands of individuals affected by the disaster.
On June 15, her questioning of BP’s Lamar McKay before a House subcommittee challenged the oil giant to come up with ways of cleaning up oil spills that aren’t relics of the rotary phone era.
Putting up photos of a rotary phone and an iPhone to highlight booms that remain literally unchanged since the 1960s, she reminded oil executives that cleanup technology hasn’t advanced very much since the Santa Barbara Channel spill in 1969. She challenged the industry to innovate in the area of safety and accident prevention.
That exchange drew the attention of a number of media, including The New York Times.
Capps’ frequent mentions of the 1969 spill — which is widely credited with inspiring the modern American environmental movement — are no coincidence. She lived in Santa Barbara during that spill and saw firsthand the devastation it caused.
The sight of oil-drenched birds and beaches in her own backyard more than 40 years ago seems to have prompted her to take a leadership role when the same thing happened, but on a much larger scale, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Advances in spill cleanup technology would not only be effective in case of another disaster in the Gulf. They would be extremely helpful in cleaning up the more frequent occurrence of very small spills — the kind that are more likely to occur off the generally well-managed operations off California Coast.