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The Upside-Down, Post-Deepwater Horizon World
Historically, environmental disasters have tended to prompt introspection, learning and some level of commitment to do a better job in the future.
When an oil blowout blackened the waters near Santa Barbara in 1969, the nation galvanized in its support for protecting our coasts and oceans, and a grassroots movement leading to the first Earth Day was begun.
Later that year, the burning Cuyahoga River led us to question our widespread practice of simply dumping pollution into rivers and streams, a process that led to the Clean Water Act and the modern architecture of environmental law.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill shocked and horrified us, and our political leaders responded by demanding better oil spill prevention and response, double-hulled tankers, better surveillance and more oversight.
One year after the largest oil spill disaster in our history, however, the loudest cries from our elected leaders are not for a sober assessment of our energy options, or even for improvements in oil drilling safety or emergency preparedness. Instead, we see a mad rush for decreased regulation and taking even more risks in the hopeless pursuit of drilling our way to energy security.
Despite extensive evidence of ecological damage in the Gulf and no evidence of any improved ability to prevent and respond to oil spills, drilling has simply resumed apace. Worse, pressure has only increased to push into other frontier areas like the Arctic Ocean, a sensitive and productive environment where the oil industry has not demonstrated an ability to clean up an oil spill.
Congress has made no move to implement the recommendations of the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The U.S. House of Representatives will likely pass legislation to speed up offshore drilling and reduce or eliminate the environmental safeguards.
It’s beyond ironic that our national response to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy has largely been to drill more, faster, riskier, and with less concern for the environment. It’s desperate, and it’s doomed to fail us.