Worst Environmental Disaster in U.S. History

Member Group : Phil English

Three weeks ago I shared my frustration at the failure of the government to respond swiftly and decisively to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, incredibly and inexorably, this disaster has continued to unfold , with no end or solution in sight. The BP wellhead, five thousand feet below the surface, continues unabated to spew thousands of gallons every day. The oil has finally made landfall, and is devastating the sensitive ecosystems of the coastline. The rescue operation, managed by BP under the direction of the Obama Administration, has so far made no progress: the current report is that the spill will not now be capped until August at the earliest. And, hurricane season starts today.

As I wrote before, I want to see a full public investigation before I start drawing final conclusions. However, it is appalling to hear learn that the federal government has delayed the permitting of emergency barrier development along the Louisiana coast- an attempt by state government to protect their sensitive coastline and the diverse ecosystem it harbours. I served in the House with Gov. Bobby Jindal- a brilliant public servant- and I assign a lot of credibility to his criticism of the sluggish federal response.

The fallout of this disaster will be far reaching, and it will have a massive impact on our long term national energy policy.

Our ability to develop a new energy economy is grounded in our ability to use state of the art science and engineering to explore and develop new sources and new technologies safely, and with predictable results. Our energy needs can only be met through cooperation between the government and the private sector. Whatever your political philosophy, and whichever direction you believe America’s energy future lies, it is difficult to picture a solution to growing global energy demands without a moderate, predictable and credible regulatory environment. That requires a competent regulator- and that is a notion increasingly challenged in the Gulf disaster.

Recent polls suggest that the Gulf oil spill is souring the public on the idea of offshore drilling. The obvious problem is the challenge of drilling safely in extremely deep water: a presumably soluble one with proper regulation and precautions. However, the growing scepticism is likely to extend to more conventional offshore sites (for which the Obama Administration has now suspended permits), and even new drilling onshore (such as Marcellus Shale). The debacle in the Gulf is likely to complicate the debate on realistic energy solutions in coming years by undermining public confidence in the players and the process.

The fallout of this disaster may undermine public confidence in the ability of the federal government to play the necessary constructive role to facilitate the transition to a sustainable energy future: to protect the environment, while permitting markets to sort competing energy sources and technologies. Without a competent regulator, many of the available energy alternatives (including natural gas, clean coal, biofuels and nuclear) may fail to realize their potential.

There is no way to gloss over the scope of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The challenge now will be to learn from the experience, understand what went wrong, and adopt realistic best practices that prevent it from reoccurring. This need not- should not- deflect us as a nation from reasserting our energy independence.

What lessons do you want America to take from this tragedy?