When the Exxon Valdez crashed into Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989 it caused the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Out of that terrible event there was some good: New standards for tanker construction such as double hulls; new laws covering oil spill liability and compensation and a comprehensive regime for oil spill response, cleanup, training and equipment.
For the most part these changes were enacted in a bipartisan fashion – we were shocked, briefly, out of our complacency and ignorance about the danger of supertankers feeding our oil addiction.
We did something then and for the most part it has worked.
Now we’re faced with the Deepwater Horizon disaster and what is the new worst environmental disaster in U.S. history by far. People have died. The “experts” don’t seem to have a solid clue about what to do.
The challenge is enormous – we’re dealing with a well spewing oil more than one mile below the surface of the Gulf. Stopping that flow and dealing with the catastrophic environmental effects is and will be a harder task than going to the moon.
Is there an opportunity here? Will there finally be a realization that breaking the hold of the oil companies on our economic, environmental and security future is a necessity that must begin now? Is it conceivable that oil companies could change their spots and become energy companies or even (dare it be whispered?) renewable energy companies?
If you dare to dream you might as well dream big.
But this nightmare occurs in a time of partisan and political extremism, with corporations and their legislative minions calling the shots. Is it possible that the level of discourse, influence and the ability to act quickly and collaboratively in this country can be turned on its head?
Of course anything is possible. As Thomas Friedman said on Sunday, “A disaster is a terrible thing to waste.”
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