Gulf spill: An opportunity for change?
By Kate Sheppard
At yesterday's news conference on the gulf oil spill, President Obama made an appeal to Congress to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill this year. "If nothing else this disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it's time to move forward with this legislation," he said.
The Senate so far has not been very enthusiastic about passing a package this year. I could blame senators alone, but it's not like most Americans have been banging down their doors demanding a climate bill, either. Unlike health care, the economy and national security, environment and energy have consistently remained low on the list of priorities for most Americans.
But might this oil spill turn that around? With new figures on the spill size out yesterday, we now know that the gulf gusher has created the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It dwarfs the two previous spills of record, the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the Santa Barbara spill in 1969. It might even make the list of the worst oil spills in world history. (The fact that it might not is perhaps the most frightening aspect.)
Accordingly, public concern about the environment has made a sharp upward turn in the weeks since the gulf spill. Unless you're a Republican, in which case it hasn't. But still, overall public opinion is changing, on offshore drilling in particular and the environment in general. It is becoming clear to many Americans that our current energy system is dangerous and unsustainable, and that the environmental risks aren't worth it.
Historically, environmental disasters have been an impetus for landmark environmental legislation. The Santa Barbara spill helped inspire a whole generation of environmental activism, launching the first Earth Day and spurring the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, all in 1970. The Valdez spill helped ease the passage of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 and spurred the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
The gulf spill offers an opportunity to do that again. Action is in the Senate's hands, but Americans have to demand it.
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