Weekly Mulch: One Year After the BP Oil Spill, None the Wiser


By Megan Hagist, Media Consortium blogger

One year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history began, key questions about its environmental impact remain unanswered. The 4.9 million barrels of BP oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico continue to threaten marine wildlife and other vile surprises have surfaced along the way.

Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard lists 10 reasonswhy we should not let the BP spill fade into the background. Perhaps the most important is the spill’s effect on locals’ health, about which Sheppard reports:

Of the 954 residents in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting health monitoring for spill cleanup workers, residents in the areas closest to the spill are concerned that their own health problems have gone unattended.

Unfortunately, protests from these communities are unheard. Low-income and minority communities are typically targeted for oil production due to inadequate political power, but indigenous women in the United States and Canada are ready to change that.

Acting Against Big Oil

Organizations like Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (REDOIL),  Indigenous Environmental Network, and Women’s Earth Alliance are working together to apply continuous pressure on oil companies in order to stop some of their more environmentally disastrous projects. Ms. Magazine’s Catherine Traywick shares insight from activist Faith Gemmill:

“We are trying to build the capacity of community leaders who are on the frontlines of these issues so that they can address these issues themselves,” Gemmill says. Her organization trains community members who are confronted with massive industrial projects and provides them with legal assistance and political support. Women’s Earth Alliance similarly links indigenous women leaders with legal and policy advocates who can, pro-bono, help them fight extractive industry, waste dumping and fossil-fuel production on sacred sites.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to neglect the National Oil Spill Commission’s advice to endorse safety regulations, while demands for domestic offshore drilling become more vocal under presumptions of lower gas prices and increased employment. But are these reasons worth the economic and environmental risks associated with drilling offshore?

According to Care2’s Jill Conners and Matthew McDermott, the answer is no. They break down the facts, noting:

Political posturing notwithstanding, offshore drilling will not eliminate US demand for foreign oil or really even make significant strides into reducing that dependency. At current consumption, the US uses about 8 billion barrels of oil per year; conventionally recoverable oil from offshore drilling is thought to be 18 billion barrels total, not per year.  What’s more, offshore oil drilling will not guarantee lower fuel prices — oil is a global  commodity, and US production is not big enough to influence global prices.

What about Wind Power?

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved the Cape Wind Project, a plan to build an offshore wind farm five miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. First proposed 10 years ago, the farm will consist of 130 wind turbines, each 440 feet tall and capable of producing 3.6-megawatts of energy.

The controversial project has been opposed by some environmentalists, who expressed fears that the installation of the turbines could have destructive impacts related to aviation traffic, fishing use, migratory birds, and oil within the turbine generators, among other issues.

Moral issues are raised too, as local tribes have fought against the Cape Wind project. Earth Island Institute’s Sacred Film Land Project has reported on the Wampanoag Indian tribes’ petitions, which ask for protection of sacred rituals and a tribal burial grounds located directly in Cape Wind’s path of installation.


A somewhat worrisome study published Monday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communicationsheds light on Americans’ climate change knowledge. Results show teenagers understand climate change better than adults, regardless of having less education overall, with a larger percentage believing climate change is caused by humans.

Some of the study’s questions were summarized by Grist’s Christopher Mims, who recounts that only “54 percent of teens and 63 percent of adults say that global warming is happening,” while only “46 percent of teens and 49 percent of adults understand that emissions from cars and trucks substantially contribute to global warming.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets


Common Corporate Sense

Half a world away, a tiny band of workers is trying to save their country from a nuclear meltdown. Closer to home, 11 people died and tens of thousands more lost their livelihoods when an oil rig caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. Even closer, my local news carries daily accounts of how a gas line explosion that left 8 dead, 50 injured, and 40 families homeless could have been prevented.

All of these events have two things in common – they’re accidents. No one got out of bed one morning and said, “Gee, I think I’ll go out and kill someone today.”

The other is that with some common sense and honesty, all of them could have been prevented or at least their risk mitigated by prudent action – even when a tsunami rolls ashore.

Cutting Corners to Keep the Dividends
For years, all the companies involved told their governments and the public things were just peachy. “Safety is our top priority. We’re responsible citizens” as if by top priority you mean cutting corners so the dividends keep on rolling in. Their inability to follow the rules is ample proof.

It’s de rigueur these days to lament the crushing weight of regulations on business, a not wholly inaccurate charge. The popular refrain is that unnecessary regulations kill jobs and stymie innovation, progress, and plenty. However, fewer point out that a job isn’t much good if you, your family, or your neighbors end up in the morgue waiting to be identified by their dental work or the ash pile that is their DNA.

All of these events, like thousands before them, will generate new regulations. The throngs don’t take kindly to being blown up while watching American Idol and they’ll push their government to do something and do something now.

Score 1 for K St.
The gears of government will turn. There will be a cacophony over just how far the regulations should go. In the end, lobbyists will win out and the resulting regulations will, more often than not, benefit the companies and not control their stupidity. Score 1 for K St.

That doesn’t matter much anyway. Government won’t enforce the laws and will cut back on the agencies that are responsible for that because someone needs a tax cut. The companies will continue to have accidents and all will be right with the world until the next tiny band of workers is irradiated or killed for simply going to work at ones of those nifty jobs that were generated by the cutting of corners and ignoring of regulations – the same regulations that tried to legislate common sense into people who have none of their own.

In the end, these events aren’t about small government or big government. They aren’t about deregulation or over-regulation. They aren’t about the gulf between the haves and have nots. They are about the ultimate failure of holding companies responsible for what they do.

Just as CEO’s don’t get out of bed in the morning plotting on who to kill today, regulations don’t come about needlessly. They come about as the result of someone not doing something that should have.

Unfortunately, you can’t legislate common sense into a thick corporate skull. And, we’re all the worse off for it.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!




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