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Oil and Outrage

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20100625_santa-barbara-oil-spill-seal

I have a new piece up at Counterpunch on the Santa Barbara oil spills, 1969 and 2015:

The environmental legislation the Santa Barbara oil spill produced included the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, one of the most important pieces of environmental ever passed. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and 372-15 in the House, showing the overwhelming bipartisan belief in the need to change how industry affected the natural world in the aftermath of Santa Barbara. NEPA required government agencies to create environmental impact statements for federal projects and mineral and timber sales. This gave environmentalists an opening to sue the government for not taking environmental concerns seriously, which would become a major part of green strategy by the 1980s.

But this time around we are more jaded and cynical. We’ve seen this story time and time again and environmental groups are worried that apathy has taken hold of the nation. Rather than build on that pioneering legislation and continue fighting to hold the oil industry responsible for its environmental damage, the industry has managed to largely avoid new regulations to prevent these spills. After the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, the nation continued to tighten restrictions on oil, including spurring resistance to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But the lack of meaningful change to oil drilling practices after the blowout of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the Louisiana coast in 2010 is telling. BP received hefty fines totally so far tens of billions of dollars, but ultimately very little has changed and similar drilling techniques are continuing today. It’s only a matter of time before another Deepwater again shows the environmental damage of our energy regime.

Of course, we all know that a bill which passes unanimously in the Senate means that Richard Nixon is a liberal who deserves all the credit for signing it.

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  • joe from Lowell

    The plume in the Gulf was still blowing when the federal district court for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted an injunction to stop a temporary moratorium the Department of the Interior had issues on deep-water drilling.

    That’s how jaded.

  • Bruce Vail

    Oil Pollution Act of 1990 had been languishing in Congress for about 15 years before it was given fresh impetus by the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Oil industry lobbyist had been successful in blocking it until the public outrage over the Alaska spill finally forced action. So Congressional advocates (mostly Democrats) of a new oil pollution law were ready to pounce as soon the oil hit the coast of Prince William Sound, unlike the case of 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, when Congress was already gridlocked by the anti-Obama Republicans.

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