Timothy Egan: Groundhog Day for Oil





[Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.]

Wish it weren’t so, but I fear my lasting memory of many trips to Prince William Sound will be of hunched-over workers with toothbrushes, trying to scrub black tar from shivering birds and sea-worn rocks in the Alaska spring of 1989.

All the images were staggering: The birds looked lost and stunned, their coats of warmth matted black, their wings greased by hydrocarbons that would eventually kill most of them. The inlets of that most Edenic of sheltered seas had a sickening sheen, with a smell that made you nauseated and stayed with you through sleepless nights. Harder still was the sight of fishermen — tough, independent, weather-callused men — weeping for their loss....

Here now is the sad replay in the Gulf of Mexico, with that life-killing choreography. Then, as today, an oil company deployed booms and dispersants, tried to buy off fishermen with quicky legal settlements, and made resolute promises about restoration and doing the right thing.

In Alaska, we saw how that turned out: after nearly two decades of legal foot-dragging, Exxon got exactly what it wanted: a Supreme Court that consistently backs the powerful and well-connected reduced punitive damages from $2.5 billion to $500 million — in a good year, just a single week’s profit for the company....

Not all hope has to be sworn off. We can wish that “drill, baby, drill” will be retired as a slogan and as the energy policy of one party. When crowds of mindless zealots shouted those three words at campaign rallies headed by Sarah Palin — whose husband was once a real fisherman in Alaska — I thought of Homer Simpson calling for more beer while thinking it was a good way to lose weight.

Here was a chant, inspired by arsonists and rioters in the 1960s, posing as a political solution. The only thing more mindless than “drill, baby, drill” was the latest self-serving distraction to spill from Newt Gingrich’s bag of cynical ideas. He called his movement: Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less. Because, of course, it’s all pain-free, and very uncomplicated.

If you go on Gingrich’s Web site, you can still sign a petition demanding more drilling — now! — and through links, buy a t-shirt with the same brain-dead slogan. And then there’s also a curious last-minute call by Gingrich for, um, an independent investigation into the, uh . . . tragic oil spill in the gulf.

He’s right on two points. We can drill here. We can drill now. But pay less? No, we always pay more, though the full tab takes a while to show.

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network