In America, and indeed the world, there are few resources necessary to sustain life more important than clean air, safe water, and by extension, a safe food supply. However, despite the significance of those vital resources to the survival of the species, there are political and religious groups spending time and resources to guarantee that water, air, and food supplies are not protected regardless of the dire consequences to people. Only a person with a death wish or a callous monster plotting to exterminate the human race would oppose protecting our air and water and it seems absurd that there would be any controversy or discussion apropos to the necessity of protecting those valuable resources, but that is exactly what has been happening in America for over 30 years.
Of all issues that engender hate and violent opposition from conservative Christians and Republicans, regulations protecting the environment are as hated as tax increases on the wealthy. Funding by the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce shows the paramount importance deregulation is to protect oil industry and corporate profits. Republicans promote unregulated drilling, exploration, and transporting of oil and claim the industry is best suited to police themselves in providing a safe, constant supply of American oil. This week in Montana, an oil pipeline accident demonstrates the need for stronger regulations and enforcement to guarantee clean water, and like the BP disaster last year, the spill is causing other industries to face devastation because an oil company ignored regulators’ warnings that a disaster was inevitable without intervention and correction of a problem.
On Friday night, an Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured about 150 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park in Montana, dumping up to 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River. The oil has fouled grasslands and seeped into groundwater jeopardizing agriculture, wildlife, and polluting nearby residents’ water supply. The oil fumes overwhelmed cleanup crews frantically trying to get a handle on the 1,000 barrels of oil being spread downstream of the ruptured pipeline, and local residents are outraged the spill happened and are calling for more government oversight of the cleanup. Exxon Mobil officials have said they are investigating the spill and were less than honest in initial reports concerning the spill and extent of contamination, but as is normally the case, the oil industry has no intention of giving an honest accounting of the events leading up to the spill or the ill-effects that will certainly last for some time.
Exxon spokesman, Alan Jeffers claimed the break in the pipeline could be related to the high water level in the river and also claimed most of the oil was within 10 miles of the spill site although Montana’s governor disputes Exxon’s claim. Governor Brian Schweitzer is correct in disputing Jeffers’ assertion that the oil contamination was within 10 miles from the accident site. There were reports of oil as far away as 100 miles, and although the spill is downstream from Yellowstone National Park and the fertile Yellowstone fly-fishing grounds, there are serious concerns the spill could hurt the tourism industry that draws 11 million visitors each year. Governor Schweitzer, a soil scientist said, “We take our rivers very seriously here in Montana and we will not allow this catastrophe to affect the $400-million trout industry in Montana.”
Fisheries downstream of the spill face damage, but it is the farmers, ranchers, and residents who depend on a safe water supply who are most likely to suffer long-term damage from Exxon’s disregard for safety and regulations. Cleanup crews, ranchers, livestock, and wildlife have been damaged already and residents report plant-life already dying from the coating of oil courtesy of Exxon Mobil. In spite of Exxon’s claim that the water level in the river is suspected of causing the spill, there is evidence that something else happened because they were warned months ago of potential problems with the pipeline by regulators with the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Last February and May, the U.S. DOT which oversees pipelines sent warning letters to Exxon Mobil that cited seven safety violations, and two of the warnings found fault with the company’s emergency response and pipeline corrosion training as well as for having inadequate markers in a housing development. The regulators also cited the oil company for allowing damaging material and debris to cover the pipeline, and specifically for having a pipeline over a canal that was not properly protected against corrosion. The spill is sure to provoke calls for more stringent regulations on the oil industry’s pipelines, although with the EPA being defunded by Republicans, more regulators and inspectors are going to be hard to come by. If there is one thing Republicans hate worse than regulations, it is the Environmental Protection Agency that is responsible for keeping Americans’ air and water safe.
Back in February when Republicans went on a slash-and-burn budget-cutting campaign, the biggest target was the EPA that faced losing $1.6 billion in funding for protecting the air and water supply. Republicans have made the agency a primary target because of aggressive efforts by the Obama Administration to regulate carbon emissions. Republicans have perpetuated the lie that the EPA is responsible for job losses and hampers potential job creation even though during the Clinton Administration the agency grew by 16% and the economy prospered and job creation was unprecedented in the modern era. Environmental regulations not only protect Americans’ access to resources necessary to all life, but they have no negative effects on the economy or jobs. Republicans though, cannot help lying about the EPA and have no other purpose in life than to help the oil industry reap more tax-free profits and protect them when they contaminate the environment.
Last year during the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Republicans apologized to the oil company because President Obama insisted that BP pay for the oil cleanup as well as compensating the thousands of residents and businesses that lost their ability to function due to the oil contamination. It appears this latest incident will be more of the same based on Exxon Mobil’s claims that the pipeline rupture was due to higher-than-normal water flow that may have been the result of severe weather caused by global climate change. It is probable that Republicans will apologize to Exxon Mobil for residents becoming sick and for farmers who have found sludge and oil on their crops and in irrigation water. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility where the oil industry and Republicans are involved and it will not be surprising if Republicans attempt to force residents to pay for the cleanup because they live near the pipeline.
Republicans will claim, along with their oil industry masters, that oil spills are a necessary price to pay for oil, and many conservatives and ignorant Americans will agree. However, for people who are losing their livelihood, health, clean air, and safe drinking water there is nothing good or acceptable associated with oil industry negligence. The oil company ignored regulators’ warnings because there are not severe enough penalties or inspectors to keep up with the important work of protecting our environment. The oil industry is also confident that Republicans will intercede on their behalf to assuage regulators’ fines and sanctions for negligence because they pay for protection with campaign contributions.
Perhaps if enough industries and people’s lives are decimated by oil company malfeasance, there will be an outcry for more inspectors and severe fines for violators, but unless the devastated industries have more money, power, and influence than the oil industry, they have little recourse except to apologize for complaining and seek employment at McDonalds or Wal-Mart.
It would not be surprising if Republicans pass legislation criminalizing complaints against the oil industry and imprisoning people who object to dirty air and oil-contaminated water. Stranger things have happened and where the oil industry is involved, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. It is unfortunate, but no amount of environmental damage or human suffering will change Republican plans to defund the last line of defense for safe drinking water and clean air. Republicans are not concerned with survival of American citizens or the environment, but they have guaranteed the oil industry will survive and thrive as long as there is one human being on Earth driving a gas-powered automobile.