Oil spills? Not in Nevada.
The reports from the Gulf get grimmer. New reports say the leaking British Petroleum well could discharge up to 60,000 barrels of oil per day—more than 10 times the original estimates. By the time this column gets to print, more details of the disaster will undoubtedly come to light.
Philosophical types like to say that when the universe has a message to deliver, it starts with a knock on the door. If that doesn’t work, the chosen medium gets ratcheted up until the recipient wakes up and pays attention.
These days, we here in the United States are getting smacked upside the head with a two-by-four about our ongoing and increasing addiction to fossil fuels. Evidently, the mounting evidence of the impact of climate change was just a little too subtle for a lot of folks. Even though there has been increasing talk of transitioning to a cleaner energy system, the old-boy’s network of coal, gas and oil companies still have enough power and influence to water down any meaningful legislation.
But a couple of weeks ago, the nation caught a glimpse of the nightmare coal-country communities face daily with the deaths of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The Gulf oil rig explosion killed 11 workers. Oil and coal mining are among the deadliest industries, so although these tragedies might be extreme, they are characteristic of the industry itself.
Deadly to humans, even more so to the environment. As the oil spill drifts into sensitive Gulf Coast habitats, we are reminded of the massive tourism and fishing industries that rely on healthy waters and are now facing a deadly threat. Anyone who recalls the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska would not be comforted to know that oil from that spill still poisons Alaskan waters and ocean floors. The impact of the British Petroleum spill could cripple Gulf ecologies and economies for decades or even generations to come. Coal mines are notorious for the mountaintop removal techniques that obliterate whole mountains and dump toxic effluent into streams and groundwater.
It isn’t just that oil and coal extraction are dangerous and dirty enterprises, but they are partly so because of the corrupt power and influence these industries exert to avoid regulation. Massey Coal and other powerful mining interests routinely bribe and bully officials to look the other way—currently Massey is under criminal investigation for serious and significant safety violations that may have led to the explosion at UBB. British Petroleum is also facing criticism for failing to adopt technologies that might have shut down the leak. Recall the 2009 investigation of the Bush administration’s Minerals Management Service—the agency charged with regulating oil, gas and coal industries—that found agency employees “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.” Writing for the Huffington Post, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. reminds us that this “orgy of wheeling and dealing … cost taxpayers millions in royalty fees and produced reams of bad science to justify unregulated deep water drilling in the gulf.”
Corruption of science and government, massive environmental destruction, bloody wars and deaths of workers—all underwritten by taxpayer-funded subsidies—how much longer can we accept this insanity?
Nevada stands poised to help our country out of this mess by deploying renewable energy technologies to export clean power to the rest of this country. But policy moves slowly, especially in this economy. What we need is the kind of economy-wide industry mobilization the country undertook during WWII—this time to transition away from fossil fuels.