In The News Quiz October 18, 2021

Energy Independence or (and?) Environmental Protection

As the Obama Administration came to power in 2009, with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, they swiftly banned new oil drilling in U.S. coastal areas—reversing the former oil executive turned U.S. President George W. Bush’s support for this policy. Eight years later, the Trump Administration reversed the Obama ban and pushed for aggressive offshore drilling. Another electoral swing in 2020 had environmental advocates celebrating a presumed renewed ban on coastal drilling under President Biden…but well into 2021, headlines instead read “Joe Biden Is Still Pushing to Expand Offshore Drilling.”

Then came a major oil spill off the California coast.

Spotted on Saturday, Oct. 2, an offshore pipeline rupture—perhaps punctured by a ship’s anchor, or perhaps an engineering failure—spilled nearly 150,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. With dead birds and fish washing ashore, area mayors termed the damage “catastrophic.” All the attention served an agenda-setting purpose: California’s governor renewed a call to end California coastal drilling within the next 20 years—a pledge he made during the state’s last major spill, in 2015.

Politicians’ reactions to the spill signal another example of polarization in American politics, with most Republicans dismissing the damage and Democrats expressing dismay and outrage. Lobbying groups divided as well, with environmentalists calling for a permanent ban on offshore drilling anywhere in the U.S., and right-wing groups (as well as oil-industry representatives) arguing that a freak accident should not affect America’s hard-won energy independence.

What do you think? Should the U.S. federal government act now, with offshore oil exploration facing criticism after the California spill, to enact a permanent ban—helping the environment both on a local scale (pipeline ruptures fouling coastlines and wetlands, killing wildlife and plants and leading to closed beaches) and national (reducing greenhouse gas emissions from oil extraction and burning this fossil fuel)? Or should the government encourage expanded drilling offshore, to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil imports and provide Americans with jobs?

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