Guest editorials…From Exxon Valdez to BP

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by Jamala Rogers

The ghosts of the Exxon Valdez environmental disaster seem to be floating around the Gulf Coast these days. EV is one of the country’s largest oil spills yet most of us have vague memories of the 1989 man-made catastrophe—except the victimized citizens and 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline.

The disaster resulted in 11 million gallons of crude oil seeping into Alaskan waters, killing wildlife and a way of life. The cost of the cleanup was about $2.1 billion while the impact on living things was incalculable.

The spill affected more than fish and fowl, according to Stan Jones, spokesman for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. “The community exhibited every kind of social stress you can imagine,” he said.

Suicides, domestic violence, bankruptcies and drug abuse abounded in coastal towns. People still suffer from medical problems and premature deaths stemming from the lethal oil spill. Things were never the same.

It is prophetic that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig tragedy occurred during the 40th anniversary month of Earth Day. The deaths of 11 workers has gotten obscured between the 200,000-plus gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day.

BP has been hit with about 5,000 claims for damages and says that it has already spent $350 million in the cleanup. We don’t know what will be the cost of public funds allocated by President Obama.

As with the Exxon Valdez spill, the Deepwater Horizon spill threatens all kinds of species, both animal and plant, and jeopardizes all the livelihoods that are dependent upon healthy and vibrant waters.

BP had given the public assurances that the required safety mechanisms were in place should a malfunction happen. Now we have to watch BP, Transocean Ltd. and Haliburton play their blame game on Capitol Hill. These characters are slicker than the oil they are pumping out of the ground.

If there was any doubt that the oil industry can and will do the right thing, the BP disaster obliterated that notion. Environmentalists have it right: It is too dirty and too dangerous.

The Exxon Valdez and BP debacles highlight an industry more concerned about profit than progeny. In both cases, company officials lied about the initial level of catastrophe, which delayed the immediate action needed to contain the damage.

The industry spends millions trying to buy off people, whether they are victims of their greed and recklessness or our governmental officials. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the oil barons spent nearly $170 million in 2009 to lobby our lawmakers. BP’s share of that was about $16 million.

My hope is that we look at our energy problem in a holistic and comprehensive way. It’s not solely about alternative energy sources; it’s about a collective lifestyle change, public and corporate consumption, green policies on a global scale, and the accountability of corporations to the planet.

It’s about developing a humane and sustainable society that supports life for generations to come.

(Reprinted from the St. Louis American.)

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