The time has come to start peeling the onion on the big, oily Gulf Coast mess. The Washington Post goes at one juicy layer with a story by Juliet Eilperin revealing that the Interior Department gave BP a pass on doing a detailed environmental impact analysis last year because a massive oil spill seemed unlikely. William Galston at The New Republic weighs in with a reminder of the somewhat cozy relationship in recent years between the department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, and the oil and gas industry.

Political contributions are another layer.  Not surprisingly, BP and its employees have been more than happy to share some of their wealth with candidates.  More surprisingly, the top recipient was none other than Barack Obama — he got more than $77,000 from BP alone when you count both his campaigns for president and the Senate. Another favorite has been Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), who just a month ago said the risks associated with offshore drilling were “quite, quite minimal.” Politico has the story. And the Sunlight Foundation has a more complete list of top recipients of BP cash, including Alaska Rep. Don Young (R), Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), and Ohio Sen. George Voinovich (R).

Despite laying out all that cash, BP is finding itself without friends on Capitol Hill these days, Greenwire reports.  Company officials on Tuesday made the first of what will be many trips to Washington to try to soothe cranky congressmen. But largely unimpressed with the answers they received in a closed-door session, lawmakers remained cranky, particularly Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey (D), who suggested that ultimately BP could come to stand for “bayou polluter.” See more from Politico.

Even as it’s played the old games by pouring money into political campaigns and D.C. lobbying, BP has been working hard to present itself as a new kind of energy company, one with a happy green face.  Among other steps, the company has adopted the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” and changed its logo to a kind of flowering sun that looks more appropriate to an air freshener than an oil firm.  James Ridgeway at Mother Jones and Kate Sheppard at Foreign Policy get exercised about the Great BP Greenwash.

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Speaking of spin, ProPublica reveals that more than half of the board members of a nonprofit with an eminently innocent name, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, have ties to offshore drilling. Just yesterday The New York Times, in a front-page story, quoted a representative of the so-called “conservation group” who reassured us that “The sky isn’t falling.” 

It’s true that, for the time being, the massive slime swirl in the Gulf of Mexico seems to be steering clear of coastlines, thanks to calm winds. But there’s much speculation that any day now it will start seeping into the Gulf Loop Current, which could fast-track the gunk to East Coast beaches.  Discovery News explains.

Finally, Christopher Beam at Slate cuts to the chase.  Why, he asks, are we so bad at dealing with disasters like this?  To quote mothers everywhere, Will we ever learn? 

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