America’s Oil Bender

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It’s axiomatic in the recovery field that addicts don’t get better until they hit bottom. For some, the bottom is shallow—a single DWI may be enough. Others sink much deeper, sobering  up only after years of lost jobs, busted relationships and wrecked cars.

The U.S.—famously addicted to fossil fuels—has been struggling for years to find a bottom of its own. For a while it seemed like it was going to be the Exxon Valdez disaster—but then time went by and we convinced ourselves that we’d learned our lesson and could use in moderation.  Then it was $4 per gallon oil that was going to do it, but then prices went back down and we bellied back up to the petrol bar.

Over the past eight weeks, greens have dared hope that the disaster in the Gulf that’s been unfolding since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20 would at last wake us up. But if early signs are any indication, our recovery is still not going well.

On June 10, the Senate barely beat back an attempt by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gasses. The agency had been vested with the authority in the first place mostly because Congress has refused to pass comprehensive energy legislation. Murkowski, whose state’s lifeblood is oil revenue, insists that she too wants such a sweeping measure to pass, but while a unified Republican minority holds up any action on it in the Senate, what’s the harm in neutering the EPA too?

The GOP wasn’t alone: Six Democrats joined the losing side in the 53-47 vote, including Jay Rockefeller of coal-producing West Virginia, and Mary Landrieu of now oil-soaked Louisiana—a state that may depend on offshore drilling for jobs, but also counts on fishing, restaurants and the vacation industry, all of which are being decimated by the spill. It was Republican Murkowski who spoke for the entire minority, however. The EPA’s planned greenhouse regulations, she said in her floor speech introducing her resolution,

“…would amount to an unprecedented power grab, ceding Congress’ responsibilities to unelected bureaucrats, and move an important debate from our open halls to behind an agency’s closed doors. This approach should have been taken off the table long ago. And yet, because the EPA is determined to move forward aggressively—and because neither Congress nor the administration has acted to stop them—it is now in the process of becoming our nation’s de facto climate policy.”

Imagine that. The Environmental Protection Agency attempting to help set environmental policy. Whatever next?

Murkowski, of course, speaks from the safe perch of a state that’s had 21 years to try to forget about the trauma of the Exxon Valdez. An entire generation of Alaskans were not even born when the tragedy occurred. Harder to fathom are the Mary Landrieus of the Gulf, who are watching their state be poisoned by oil even as they continue to demand more. And Landrieu is by no means the most obstinate of Louisianians. Consider Charlotte Randolph, president of the state’s LaFource parish, who, in speaking of President Obama, said to CNN:

“I think he has an agenda. And this is certainly working into his agenda. Right now we are the poster children for alternative energy. He can point to us and say this is why we need to move on to alternative energy.”

A president watching his nation in crisis and calling for needed, aggressive action in response. Whatever next?