I’m heading off to the Miller Center of Public Affairs for what should be a rousing fellows conference. Nothing better than a few days in Charlottesville.
Twenty-one years ago, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Prince Williams Sound, Alaska, brought home the environmental dangers oil drilling and transportation posed. Striking images of rescued and wasted wildlife brought the costs home to Americans who might not mourn the lost krill and algae but were drawn to images like this pair of tarred otters:
Source: Anchorage Daily News
The spill in the Gulf is not really comparable to the Exxon Valdez: It is orders of magnitude worse. The fragile coastal ecosystem, the region’s fishing and shrimping industry, the variety and abundance of wildlife affected, the unlimited source of oil flooding into the lush Gulf waters—all these mean more Americans will feel the impact of the spill, and the environment will be more damaged.
Politically, too, the effect will likely be greater. The Exxon spill resulted in the limited Oil Pollution Act of 1990, aimed at keeping Exxon out of the region. But no systematic regulatory reappraisal followed. The costly new spill makes that more likely (but by no means assured).
The other political ramification, of course, has to do with offshore oil-drilling in the U.S. Yes, President Obama has opened the door for more drilling in the past year, but on the whole, this is a bigger problem for Republicans, who spent much of 2008 chanting “Drill, Baby, Drill.” The new response, “Spill, Baby, Spill,” is much more likely to benefit Democrats (as conservatives like Jonah Goldberg have admitted).
Complicating all that is the real need for energy alternatives and independence. Having lectured Thursday on the energy crisis of the 1973, I’m reminded how little control the US has over its energy supply and how crippling that lack of control can be to the American economy. The answer, however, is the same as it was then: Consume less. Live within limits. Move away from a petroleum-based economy.
The problem remains the same as well. Americans today are no more likely to embrace that message than they were thirty-one years ago.
(For an extensive collection of primary sources related to coverage of the Exxon-Valdez spill, check out Hard Aground from the Anchorage Daily News.)